Democrats' convention doesn't resonate with Mecklenburg's neighbors

Republicans carry counties around Mecklenburg, and the Democrats’ big party in Charlotte this week won’t change that, voters say

lbonner@newsobserver.comSeptember 3, 2012 

— While Charlotte was readying a massive political festival for thousands of Democratic guests, Brad Hartis sat at a public park about 25 miles south of the city determined to ignore the whole thing.

Hartis, a registered Republican, said he already knows he’s going to vote for GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

“I don’t think how it’s going right now is working,” Hartis said of the country’s direction. “I want somebody different in there to give them a shot.”

National Democrats looked to make a statement by bringing their convention to a southern state where President Barack Obama eked out a win four years ago. “We’re planting our flag in the South,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee chairwoman, told delegates Sunday night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But voters like Hartis, who runs an auto-repair shop in Indian Trail, may mean the local electoral ripples from the Charlotte convention won’t reach very far.

This small town in Union County seems far from the Democratic convention that’s going on just a work commute away. The only political signs dotting the roadways are for Republican Congressional candidate Robert Pittenger and Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby.

Charlotte is an island of blue in a sea of ruby red. Republicans have a clear lead in registered voters in the rural and suburban counties surrounding Mecklenburg. In Union County, for instance, 43 percent of the voters are registered Republicans compared to 29 registered Democrats. In Mecklenburg County, the count is flopped with 45 percent registered as Democrats and 27 percent Republican. Statewide, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.

All state legislators representing those counties, save one, are Republicans. Obama’s North Carolina win four years ago has focused the attention of local Republican organizers working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Jerry Cross, vice president of the Union County Republican Party, said more than 350 people have volunteered at the county headquarters and they plan to go door-to-door in every precinct. The county party wants to give free passes to the anti-Obama movie “2016: Obama’s America,” to high school seniors.

“We’re going to make a difference this time,” Cross said.

State Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat, said his party can make in-roads in GOP areas “with focused and dedicated voter registration.”

“If people would vote their interests, there’s no way to go but to Democratic candidates,” he said.

Some voters living outside Charlotte were surprised that Democrats would bring their convention to a Republican region, but they aren’t so curious that they’ll pay attention to it.

“It’s all a bunch of talk,” said John Karman, a registered Republican. “Nothing happens.”

Karman, didn’t watch a minute of the Republican National Convention last week and will ignore the Democrats in Charlotte, too.

Karman, 39, said he used to be a cabinet maker but now builds fences and is making far less money. If he votes, he says, he’ll vote for Romney.

Far from disinterested, Joe K. and Kaye Jereb of Concord plan to watch hours of convention coverage this week. The retired couple from Cabarrus County, northeast of Mecklenburg, said they were engaged in the Republican National Convention last week, too, and stayed up late watching the television coverage.

Unlike most Cabarrus voters, the Jerebs are registered Democrats. Still, they plan to vote for Romney.

Joe Jereb, 80, who moved to North Carolina from Chicago 14 years ago, said he knows plenty of Democrats who vote Republican. “Democrats, they switch,” he said. Party registration, he said, “doesn’t matter.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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