Democrats’ Convention Choice Showcases Tension

Posted February 1, 2011 at 6:16pm

The decision to hold the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., sent a clear message that Barack Obama’s next presidential campaign is likely to be as ambitious as his last.

Charlotte got the nod over St. Louis, the other frontrunner, as well as finalists Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“This selection should put to rest any notion that the presidential map in 2012 is going to shrink,” a senior Democratic official told Roll Call. “President Obama will be very active in North Carolina and … despite what some have speculated, we are going to go as big in 2012 as we did in 2008 — and that means fighting hard for North Carolina, Virginia and all the states and more that helped elect President Obama in the first place.”

The decision to highlight the South in the president’s nominating convention could signal a broader strategy for his re-election campaign, said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who said she was “bitterly disappointed” that St. Louis was passed over.

“I think the president and the president’s campaign team have always tried to do things a little differently,” she said. “There has never been a Democratic candidate for president who put a team on the ground in Utah and Idaho, and he did that. So I think to try to go counterintuitive and go into the South for the nominating convention, I understand why that was attractive to the president’s political team.”

In 2008, Obama won North Carolina, a state that had backed GOP nominees in every presidential election since 1976.

But in choosing Charlotte, the Democrats declined to make a visible stand in Missouri, a swing state that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won in 2008 by fewer than 4,000 votes.

Holding the convention in St. Louis would have given the Show-Me State an economic and political boost in a year when McCaskill faces re-election for the first time. She is considered one of the most vulnerable first-term Democratic Senators; Roll Call Politics rates her race a Tossup.

McCaskill stressed that a strong showing in the Midwest would be a key factor in Obama’s re-election.

“He’s got to have the Midwest, and I don’t think anybody should interpret this as giving up on the Midwest,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the case. … They’ve decided that the symbolism of going into the South is important. … I think you’ll see the campaign all over the Midwest.”

But the New York Times reported that McCaskill privately was asking for the convention to be held elsewhere because it could complicate her re-election bid. Her office did not rebut the claim when reporters asked and instead repeated that she was disappointed.

Republicans announced in May that they will hold their 2012 convention in Tampa, Fla., a state Obama carried in 2008. The GOP convention will be held the week of Aug. 27. Democrats will hold theirs the week of Sept. 3.

In an e-mail to Democratic National Committee members, Chairman Tim Kaine said he looks forward to gathering in Charlotte next year to renominate Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden “and to help propel them to victory in November 2012.”

“Charlotte is a city marked by its southern charm, warm hospitality, and an ‘up by the bootstraps’ mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South,” first lady Michelle Obama said in an e-mail to Organizing for America supporters. “And of course, great barbecue.”

McCaskill, an early supporter of Obama’s 2008 presidential run, said she was “very proud” of the St. Louis effort.

“I got worried a few weeks ago when all of a sudden they quit returning my phone calls,” McCaskill said, referring to the DNC. “I think I drove them crazy.”