Boycott Mayberry? How North Carolina Lost Its Shine for Obama

Article excerpt

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 knowledge economy.

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 marriage. …