North Carolina Democrats enter the national convention in their home state with much to prove.
More than anything, the states partisan faithful must demonstrate that President Barack Obamas 2008 victory in this traditionally Republican state was not a fluke that North Carolina deserves to host the Democratic convention and merits a spot among the more traditional campaign battleground states like Florida and Ohio.
You could say lightning doesnt strike twice, said Matt Hughes, a county party chairman and state delegate. Traditionally a lot of Democrats have written off the presidential race. But Democrats and the national party ... genuinely believe they can carry North Carolina.
Obama took North Carolina by 14,177 votes in 2008, making him the first Democrat presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win the state. His victory surprised Republicans and helped elevate North Carolina to the swing state bracket. But whether it maintains its status going forward will largely be determined by the 2012 election.
At the convention, I think (Democrats) have to convince people that they still think the state is in play, said Chris Cooper, a political expert at Western Carolina University.
To some degree, he said, this years contest in North Carolina determines how competitive Democrats are going to be in the South going forward. Its the last real southern state where Democrats have a fighting chance.
To repeat the Obama victory this year, the states delegation says it needs the convention to jolt Democrats to life. Its a place we can all go to recharge a little bit, said Nina Szlosberg-Landis, a delegate and top Democratic donor whose husband is a fundraising bundler for Obama.
For the most ardent Democrats, the mood is optimistic but also tempered by the challenge ahead.
In 2008, we saw people come to the polls in record numbers, people who had never voted before, said Linda Coleman, the partys candidate for lieutenant governor. Now we have to simply make sure those people come back to the polls to vote.
The Obama campaign maintained a presence in the state for the past four years but the political climate in North Carolina has shifted significantly.
In the 2010 election, the GOP took control of the state legislature for the first time in 140 years. The new majority redrew political boundaries to protect their power and put a constitutional ban on gay marriage to a referendum. It won with 61 percent approval, even though Obama spoke out against the measure and national opposition groups spent millions to influence the vote.
Add to the picture an unpopular incumbent Democratic governor not seeking re-election, a state party touched by a sexual harassment scandal, and one of the nations highest jobless rates at 9.4 percent, and the states story doesnt fit so neatly into the narrative Democrats want to tell in Charlotte.
I think they were trying to use (the convention) as a way to replicate their efforts in 2008, said Robert Reid, a spokesman for Romneys campaign in the state. But the problem is North Carolinians have been hit especially hard by the failures of Barack Obama. ... When President Obama comes here next week he has a lot of explaining to do to voters.
Polls show dead heat
A recent CNN poll shows the presidential race for the states 15 electoral votes between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney is deadlocked. The CNN survey before the Republican National Convention found 48 percent of likely voters supported Romney with 47 percent backing Obama, a statistical tie.
To move the needle, both sides are putting big money into television campaigns. The Obama campaign has spent $22 million on TV ads so far while Romney and a handful of conservative groups countered with $33 million, media buyers reported.
Its a tight race, said MaryBe McMillan, a delegate and state AFL-CIO official from Cary. As voters hear more from the candidates, theyll choose President Obama. Theyll see he offers a vision of hope and opportunity for everyone.
The states delegation wants to see the contrast become clear at the convention. Most delegates want a message that will unify Democrats and prove persuasive at home.
I would like for the president and the Democrats to draw the line and make the distinction about what makes us better than the Republicans, said John Verdejo, a Democratic National Committeeman from Raleigh. That we need to move forward, not backward and [that] a vote for them is against your own best interest.