By JEFF ZELENY
Can North Carolina Deliver Again?
Published: February 1, 2011
WASHINGTON — President Obama signaled Tuesday that he would try to follow the same path to re-election that he charted in his first campaign, selecting Charlotte, N.C., to host the 2012 Democratic convention in a decision that instantly confirmed the state as a new presidential battleground.
In choosing Charlotte, Mr. Obama rejected bids from Cleveland, Minneapolis and St. Louis. The selection was the White House’s first major strategic decision of the presidential race, and displayed the desire of Democrats to retain some of the states they carried in 2008 for the first time in a generation.
“We’re looking at an expanding map rather than shrinking back to husband our resources and play defense,” said Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “We were very excited about winning North Carolina in 2008. Putting our convention there is a very serious sign that we intend to compete there again.”
St. Louis was widely seen as the next choice to Charlotte. Though St. Louis has been host to four Democratic national conventions, and was recommended by the leading hotel workers’ union for having the most unionized facilities, there were broader concerns raised about Missouri. The state has slipped out of the Democratic Party’s reach in recent presidential elections and it is not expected to be among the top tier of places where Mr. Obama will compete in 2012.
One of the country’s most competitive Senate races is also taking place in Missouri, with Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, singled out by Republicans as she seeks a second term.
Ms. McCaskill, one of the president’s closest friends in the Senate, publicly supported having St. Louis host the convention, but she raised several concerns to the White House, according to party officials familiar with the selection process. She questioned whether her re-election would be complicated if the convention were held in St. Louis.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ms. McCaskill said she was “bitterly disappointed” that St. Louis had been passed over. She added, “I’m incredibly proud of the bid put forth by St. Louis and how bipartisan the support was.”
The selection of North Carolina also underscored the hope of Mr. Obama and his advisers that they have a better chance of organizing supporters — and finding new voters — in a conservative-leaning but demographically evolving Southern state than in a traditional battleground like Missouri. The advisers believe the advantages of North Carolina include a population that is 22 percent black, an influx of new residents because of research and banking jobs, and laws that allow last-minute voter registration.
In 2008, Mr. Obama won the state’s Democratic primary over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter to carry North Carolina in the general election by building a diverse coalition of voters.
With the Republican convention to be held in Tampa, Fla., the political gatherings will unfold in two Southern states, both of which could play outsize roles in the campaign. In addition to North Carolina, Mr. Obama carried Florida in 2008, but a strong showing by Republicans in last year’s midterm elections showed the volatility of the electoral votes from both states.
A key selling point for North Carolina, officials said, was its proximity to Virginia, which Mr. Obama also carried. Democratic leaders said they intended to make Virginia an integral part of the convention by busing in activists and volunteers.
The selection process was overseen by the president’s top political advisers. The finalist cities lobbied aggressively to be awarded the convention — and the multimillion-dollar rush of business that accompanies a winning bid — even as some state political figures raised questions about how they would be affected by a convention in their state.
The announcement of Charlotte was made by Michelle Obama in an e-mail to members of Organizing for America, the network of supporters from the 2008 campaign.
“We want this to be a grass-roots convention for the people,” Mrs. Obama wrote, adding, “This will be a different convention, for a different time.”