Charlotte, North Carolina
On July 18, 111 days before the November election, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx arrived at Obama headquarters for a special announcement. Flanked by a dozen campaign volunteers, Foxx explained how the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the first in the state’s history, would boost the president’s organizing efforts in this crucial battleground state.
“From the day North Carolina was selected,” Foxx said, “it was clear that the Obama campaign was committed to delivering the Tarheel State for President Obama once again.” Foxx described the convention as a “massive organizing opportunity to recruit, to train and to engage more North Carolina volunteers than ever before.” To that end, he announced, volunteers who gave nine hours of their time in three shifts would be guaranteed a seat at Bank of America Stadium when Obama speaks on September 6.
At 41, Foxx is the youngest mayor in Charlotte’s history and only its second African-American mayor (the first, Harvey Gantt, lost two bitter Senate contests to Jesse Helms in the 1990s). Foxx has become Obama’s most visible surrogate in the state and an evangelist for the type of grassroots organizing that propelled Obama to victory four years ago. “In my previous campaigns for city council, we didn’t focus as much on phone banking and door knocking and grassroots politics,” Foxx told me. “We took a lot of the mechanics from the Obama 2008 campaign and applied them to my 2009 mayoral race and my 2011 re-election race.”
In 2011, Foxx was returned to office with 70 percent of the vote, and Democrats swept all four city council races, holding a nine-to-two majority for the first time in Charlotte’s history. The races were viewed by the Obama campaign as a test run for 2012. Foxx’s campaign, boosted by Obama volunteers from 2008, made ten times as many phone calls to voters as his opponent and knocked on 25,000 doors. “This was a really good wake-up call for the Republican Party,” GOP consultant Jessica Wood would tell the Charlotte Observer. “We were clearly just out-organized.”
North Carolina was the second-closest state in 2008—Obama won it by 14,177 votes—and had the largest spike in voter turnout compared with 2004, due largely to a surge in African-American and young voters. Today, the Obama campaign wants to prove that its 2008 squeaker was no fluke by forcing the Romney campaign to vigorously defend the state in a way that John McCain did not.
Political analysts Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress have described this election as pitting “demographics versus economics.” The country’s changing demographics favor Obama, but the sluggish economy benefits Romney. Nowhere is this pattern as stark as in North Carolina. Demographically, state’s growing coalition of young voters, minorities, white-collar professionals, and progressive transplants from the Midwest and Northeast favor Obama. People of color accounted for 61 percent of the state’s 1.5 million new residents over the past decade. Since 2008, the black and Hispanic share of eligible voters in North Carolina has grown by 2.5 percent, while the percentage of the white vote has decreased by a similar margin. North Carolina has the largest population of African-Americans of any swing state, and it’s also the battleground state where Obama is least reliant on white voters. Of the 263,000 people who moved to North Carolina in 2010, 65 percent came from states that supported Obama in 2008. In other words, Obama’s local coalition has grown since 2008, while the Republicans’ has shrunk.
Economically, however, North Carolina has the country’s fourth-highest unemployment rate, which has stayed above 9 percent for forty-one months. In June, the unemployment rate increased in eighty-four of the state’s 100 counties. With Obama winning 54 percent of voters who said they were “very worried” about the economy in 2008, it’s not hard to imagine this figure reversed in Romney’s favor in 2012.