CHARLOTTE, N.C. – President Barack Obama's selection of this Southern city for the 2012 Democratic convention signals he will try to reassemble his diverse coalition of 2008 supporters and fight for the conservative-leaning states that helped him win the White House.
The Democratic National Committee announced the selection of Charlotte on Tuesday, rejecting bids by a trio of Midwestern cities hit hard by the recession — Cleveland, Minneapolis, and St. Louis — in favor of the more economically stable North Carolina.
With the economy certain to dominate Obama's re-election bid, North Carolina's long-term industrial transformation — from tobacco, textiles and furniture to research, energy and banking — also plays into what may be the centerpiece of the Democrat's re-election bid, a call for America to focus on innovation to compete in the changing global marketplace.
The convention's apparent theme — The People's Convention — indicates that the president will try to rekindle the grass-roots flavor of his groundbreaking 2008 bid.
"This will be a different convention, for a different time," first lady Michelle Obama wrote to supporters Tuesday in an e-mail that disclosed the city where Democrats plan to nominate Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for a second term. She said the gathering would be "a grass-roots convention for the people" and promised to pay for it in a different way. But she provided no specifics on either point.
The announcement of where Obama will formally kick off his re-election campaign was the latest step in the president's efforts pointing toward 2012. He has shifted political aides out of the White House, authorized a campaign headquarters for Chicago and started repositioning himself as a president who governs from the center of the ideological spectrum.
He must try again to cobble together the voting blocs that helped him win across the country, including in such normally Republican states as North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana. He became the first Democratic presidential candidate in decades to win those. And he did it by appealing to a wide swath of voters, some of whom have since soured on him.
Independent voters were critical to his victory in 2008 but have tilted away from him over the past two years. Sporadic-voting minorities and young adults who backed him in droves can't be automatically counted on to do the same next year. Neither can people who cast ballots for the first time, or disenchanted Republicans who crossed over to vote for Obama.
"I think we can reassemble that coalition, but we have to work to do," David Axelrod, a top Obama political adviser, told The Associated Press recently as he left the White House for Chicago. He disputed the notion that after two years as president, Obama would be all but forced to cede ground in places like North Carolina.
"A lot of states where we did well last time are still very competitive. We're still going to have to fight for them," Axelrod said. "We're going to play big. ... We're certainly not going to hunker down."
Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said that choosing Charlotte proves it.
"We're always focusing on expanding the map, rather than shrinking the map," he said in an interview.
In 2008, Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to win North Carolina in a presidential race, boosted by a large jump in black voter participation. A flood of new residents over the past decade and a rising crop of independent voters also have made the one-time solidly Republican state far more competitive in statewide elections.
he president plans to accept the Democratic nomination at the convention during the week of Sept. 3, 2012, just days after Republicans gather in Tampa, Fla., another important presidential battleground, to nominate their GOP ticket after a primary season that's likely to be hotly contested. No less than a dozen Republicans are considering running for the chance to challenge Obama.
Charlotte's selection didn't sit well with unions, a core Democratic constituency. North Carolina is a right-to-work state; hotels are not unionized.
Some Democrats also groused that choosing Charlotte — a banking mecca — opened the party to criticism of being cozy with the financial industry. Bank of America has its headquarters in the city, and Wachovia did, too, until Wells Fargo bought it. The city took a hit with the nation's banking meltdown, losing thousands of good-paying financial services jobs, but officials emphasized the state's history of reinventing itself.
"It's a new economy there," Kaine argued.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said the city is on the verge of a revival, and he credited the victory in part to the city's "can-do spirit" in the face of serious economic problems.
North Carolina officials estimate the convention will attract an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 delegates, media members and political leaders.
Other cities had pushed hard to win the honor.
"They clearly made the decision based on electoral politics, not who is the best place to hold a convention with excellent hotels and restaurants," said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Liz Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ben Feller in Washington, Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C., and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.