Troubles plague Democratic National Convention

8:43 AM, Jun 28, 2012   |    comments
The Democratic National Convention, set to be held in September at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, has been hit by logistical issues in recent weeks.
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(USA TODAY) -- When the Democratic National Committee announced that it was choosing Charlotte to host the party's convention, the decision was meant to reflect the high hopes that President Obama's campaign team had for hanging onto the Tar Heel state's 15 electoral votes.

But in recent weeks, the convention - where Obama will formally accept the party's nomination - has been overshadowed by logistical issues, ho-hum interest from several Democratic lawmakers and Congressional candidates and a beleaguered North Carolina Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, Republicans have reveled in the Democrats' tough luck, suggesting it is a bad omen for Obama's chances to hang onto a state that he won by only 14,000 votes in 2008.

"North Carolina has been a mess for President Obama," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski declared in an e-mail to reporters Tuesday after the Charlotte host committee announced they were moving a much ballyhooed kickoff event on Labor Day from the Charlotte Speedway, 20 miles from the city, to Uptown Charlotte because of logistical concerns.

Later on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, the embattled Democrat from Missouri, and Heidi Heitkamp, the North Dakota Senate candidate, became the latest party loyalists to announce they will skip the convention in September and stay at home and campaign. They join Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Rep. Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, and several other Democrats who previously said they will skip the convention.

Dan Murrey, executive director of the host committee Charlotte in 2012, said the decision to move the event was made "in order to facilitate public caucus meetings - and to maximize accessibility, transportation and proximity of all guests."

Yet the decision to move the Labor Day gala - which is open to the public and was billed as a family-friendly celebration of "the Carolinas, Virginia and the South" when the host committee announced their plans in January - seemed curiously timed after the committee unveiled a Democratic National Convention stock car last month to trumpet the public event at the speedway.

The troubles with the convention - whatever the cause - also come at a time when the North Carolina Democratic Party is reeling, said John Davis, a Raleigh-based political analyst and publisher of the John Davis Political Report.

A former party staffer filed a defamation suit against the NCDP earlier this month after alleging earlier in the year that he was sexually harassed by former executive director Jay Parmley. Parmley resigned from his position in April.

The state's Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, whose approval rating is lower than any sitting governor in the nation, according to a new poll by the liberal Public Policy Polling, isn't standing for re-election. And last month, North Carolinians voted in favor of inserting a prohibition against gay marriage in the state constitution - just a day before Obama announced he changed his position and endorsed same-sex marriage.

"The leadership has collapsed," Davis said. "It's terribly unfortunate that it has happened at the time that this state has the high honor of hosting the Democratic National Convention."

Davis said the logistical issues of the convention won't affect how North Carolinians vote in November, but the state of the party could prove to be heavy baggage for the president.

Several polls over the last month show that Obama and GOP likely nominee Mitt Romney are knotted in a tight race for the state. The Obama campaign, however, has already launched a robust get-out-the-vote effort in North Carolina as it has in other swing states. Democrats presently hold a 750,000 advantage in registered voters over Republicans - a slightly larger advantage than Democrats held in 2008, according to the North Carolina Board of Elections.

Democrats also have roughly 45,000 more voters on the rolls in the state than they did at the end of the summer 2008, while Republicans have roughly 32,000 more voters on the rolls today than they did four years ago. Unaffiliated voters, however, have grown by nearly 270,000 since the summer of 2008, according to the election board.

But some Republicans note that taking just a small slice of the huge advantage Obama had with young voters in 2008, when he won 74% of the state's 18-29 voters, could make the difference.

Assuming that turnout and proportion of voters stays roughly the same, Romney could tip North Carolina back to the GOP if he could win just 2 percentage points more than Sen. John McCain did in 2008, said Derek Flowers, the executive director of the GOP-leaning super PAC Generation Crossroads.

The number of Democrats who are skipping the convention and problems within the North Carolina Democratic Party will reflect poorly with the state's swing voters, Flowers said.

"If it were just one or two of these problems, it wouldn't be such a big deal," Flowers said. "But these things just compound. It makes you wonder where the excitement is (for Obama)."

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