After helping put President Obama over the top in 2008, North
Carolina seemed the perfect place to hold the 2012 Democratic
National Convention. But the Southern state has become symbolic of
the economic and social headwinds Obama faces in his reelection.
Petitions by gay groups this week aimed at plucking the upcoming
Democratic National Convention out of Charlotte, N.C., and plopping
it elsewhere after the state convincingly passed a gay marriage ban
are unlikely to succeed.
But stirring discontent with North Carolina, punctuated by
Obama's reversal on gay marriage and declaration of support a day
after the state referendum, isn't the only red flag that's whipping
around a year after Democrats picked Charlotte as their 2012
convention site, partly as a symbol of Obama's outreach to Dixie and
to highlight the economic and demographic transformation of North
Carolina from Mayberry quaintness to harbinger of a 21st century
Since Obama became the first Democratic presidential nominee to
prevail there since Jimmy Carter in 1976, the state has come to
symbolize many of the Democrats' challenges as they seek Obama's
reelection: stubborn economic hardship (9.7 percent unemployment),
culture war battles on the ascendant, and a scandal-riven state
party that has struggled to reassemble and excite the mosaic of
voter groups that backed Obama in 2008.
In short, "The Old North State has become a battleground," writes
Duke University public policy professor Jacob Vigdor, in a Wall
Street Journal column.
Gay marriage issue: Who does it hurt most, Obama or Romney?
That battle heated up this week after the gay marriage ban was
approved by a 61 to 39 margin along neat geographical lines, making
North Carolina the 26th state with such an amendment.
Solidly in favor were the state's vast rural tracts, where the
state's political power still resides. Solidly opposed were the
state's growing urban areas, like Raleigh and Chapel Hill, which
have come to define the transformation of North Carolina from an
agrarian, tobacco-growing backwater to a polyglot society of
immigrants and newcomers, where about half the populace hails from
somewhere else, often from another country.
In 2008, Obama managed to exploit anger at George W. Bush while
rallying young people, many of them first-time voters, to the polls.
But this time those voters may be harder to reach.
Young people, especially, are bearing the brunt of economic hard
times. And blacks in North Carolina, who came out in force for Obama
in 2008, overwhelmingly supported the gay marriage ban, highlighting
the hazards of the President's political high-wire act on gay