Can Charlotte convention's glow help Obama win election?

tfunk@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 7, 2012 

  • Among the undecided: Meredith Figueroa Age: 40 Job: Mary Kay Independent Consultant “I watched it. I didn’t really hear anything that spoke to me. I’m swaying more that way (Democratic), but I’m still undecided. I’m really swaying more toward (former President Bill) Clinton.” Jaimie McConnell Age: 30 Job: National Account Manager “The speeches were great and they were very motivating. If they were 100 percent true, sure, that would be the way to go.” Jamaal Abdul-Awwal Age: 31 Status: Unemployed. “After watching both conventions I’m more leaning to Democrats. I watched the Republican National Convention; it seemed the overall tone was real negative ... It was almost like they wanted to get into a time machine and go back to the ’80s.”

Departing Democrats were all smiles Friday as they talked up a Charlotte convention that was high-energy, on-message and erased any talk of an election-year enthusiasm gap favoring the Republicans.

“I have been to every convention since 1968 ... and this was simply the very best Democratic National Convention we’ve ever had,” said South Carolina’s Don Fowler, a former national party chairman and CEO of the 1988 DNC in Atlanta.

“I think it will send the president off with a good bump. And I think he will win based in many respects on what happened in Charlotte over the last three days.”

But if Fowler’s November prediction comes true, political scientists say it will likely have less to do with any post-convention bounce in the polls than in the Charlotte convention’s success – as a TV show and campaign organizing tool – to excite President Barack Obama’s base.

In a neck-and-neck presidential race where most voters have already made up their minds, energizing supporters so they’ll turn out on Election Day could tell the tale, they say.

Mitt Romney got barely a bounce from last week’s Republican convention. And early Gallup tracking polls indicate Obama may not fare much better.

Instead, the conventions are increasingly judged by how they motivate the partisans in the hall and the like-minded voters watching at home – mostly on Fox during the Republican convention and MSNBC during the Democrats’ gathering.

“These loyal troops are ready to hit the front lines,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College.

Stadium change hurts

One of the chief battlegrounds: North Carolina.

Early on, the Obama campaign acknowledged that Charlotte was chosen to host the 2012 convention in hopes it could be a gateway to picking up North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes.

“It was absolutely the right thing to do,” Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. “We were very clear that we wanted to plant a flag in the South and send a signal that we weren’t going to cede any region to the Republicans – including the South.”

The plan was to open and close the convention in Charlotte with public events that would make tens of thousands of N.C. voters – and voters from neighboring Virginia, also a swing state – feel like they were part of the quadrennial event.

Did they pull it off?

Many did show up for CarolinaFest, a Labor Day celebration on Tryon Street that featured volunteers signing up people to vote and booths spilling over with Obama books, buttons and signs.

But the grand finale was to have been Thursday night. That’s when an estimated 80,000 people were to pour into Bank of America Stadium to see the president give his acceptance speech from the 50-yard-line.

After promising all week that the stadium event was on “come rain or shine,” the Obama campaign and convention organizers announced Wednesday they were moving the speech inside, to Time Warner Cable Arena, where only delegates, donors and special guests would fit.

With a chance of thunderstorms, the organizers said it was a question of safety.

Funk: 704-358-5703

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