Election 2012
4:25 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

N.C. Democrats Try To Dust Off Pre-Convention Blues

Originally published on Sat May 26, 2012 9:14 am

The Democratic Party will hold its national convention in Charlotte this September. The choice of venue was a signal that North Carolina would be a key part of President Obama's re-election strategy.

But the state's Democrats have suffered a few blows lately.

There's the high profile trial of former Democratic Sen. John Edwards. Even more troubling to North Carolina Democrats are the passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and a sex-scandal in the state party organization.

President Obama won North Carolina by his narrowest margin in 2008 — less than half a percentage point — and state Democrats are fervently hoping to keep it "blue" for him in November.

But lately, many are just feeling blue.

"We've got people coming from around the world, coming to Charlotte in September, and look what ... is being splashed across the pages of the newspapers over the last several weeks," says Gray Newman, a Charlotte Democrat who serves as a precinct chair.

Scandal And Setbacks

State leaders of the North Carolina Democratic Party are mired in a sexual harassment scandal involving the party's director and a former staffer. The director resigned. But it turns out there was a settlement over the allegations, which led to calls for the party chairman, David Parker, to resign, too. Parker nearly did, but changed his mind when some party loyalists urged him to stay.

On top of all that, Democrats are getting some push back from labor groups about their decision to hold the party's national convention in a state that limits union power.

Fundraising for the convention has been slow.

Two weeks ago came the real hit, says Newman, when the state voted for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The amendment was approved by 61 percent of state voters, a percentage that Newman said "truly astounded" him.

A gay rights group has gathered thousands of signatures to an online petition demanding the convention move to another state.

Demoralized But Not Out

While national party leaders say they're committed to making the convention a success in Charlotte, North Carolina Democrats like state Rep. Pricey Harrison admit the timing is not ideal.

In 2010, Republicans took control of the state Legislature for the first time in a century. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, has since become so powerless and unpopular she decided not to run for re-election.

"There's not a lot that we get to claim credit for now because it's all been defense," says Harrison. "But I think that we've got a track record and a legacy that we can be proud of in North Carolina."

Communicating that legacy is a big responsibility of the North Carolina Democratic Party, which is currently in disarray over the harassment scandal. But a spokesman says the state party is "continuing to do the work necessary to elect Democrats up and down the ticket."

Getting Out The Vote

Way down the ticket, Dan McCorkle is managing campaigns for several Charlotte Democrats.

He says he's not too worried about the state of the state party because the Obama campaign is already in North Carolina with volunteers.

"They're everywhere. They're motivated. They're working every day to get the base Democratic vote, out," he says. "And that in the end is the most important thing that is happening in North Carolina right now."

Obama campaign volunteer Olivia Reburn, who lives across the state line in South Carolina, hasn't given much thought to the recent setbacks of Democrats in North Carolina.

"I think this is the place to be in the Southeast, as far as you know, working for the Democratic Party and getting people energized to vote," she says.

Reburn feels like North Carolina really matters in 2012.

So do the Republicans, who recently announced a plan to send their own volunteers from South Carolina up to this battleground state.

Copyright 2013 WFAE-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wfae.org.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Democratic Party will hold its national convention in Charlotte this September. The choice of venue was a signal that North Carolina would be a key part of the president's re-election strategy. But for the state's Democrats spring has been a season of setbacks. There's the high profile trial of former Democratic Senator John Edwards. Even more troubling for Democrats there: The passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and a harassment scandal in the state party organization.

From member station WFAE in Charlotte, Julie Rose reports.

JULIE ROSE, BYLINE: President Barack Obama won North Carolina by his narrowest margin in 2008 and Democrats here are fervently hoping to keep their state blue for him in November. But lately, many are just feeling blue.

GARY NEWMAN: We've, we've got people coming from around the world, coming to Charlotte in September. And look what's being splashed across the pages of the newspapers over the last several weeks.

ROSE: Gray Newman's a Democrat in Charlotte - a proud one who serves as precinct chair. Oh, but the razzing he's endured from his brother up in D.C.

NEWMAN: His general perception is what the hell's going on down there? I thought North Carolina was the progressive leader of the South?

ROSE: Just to recap: State leaders of the North Carolina Democratic Party are mired in a sexual harassment scandal involving the party's director and a male former staffer. The director resigned. But it turns out there was a settlement over the allegations, which led to calls for the party chairman to resign, too. He nearly did but changed his mind when some party loyalists urged him to stay.

On top of all that, Democrats are getting some pushback from labor groups about their decision to hold the national convention in a state that limits union power. Fundraising for the convention has been slow. And then two weeks ago, the real hit, says Newman.

NEWMAN: Just the wide gap in Amendment One vote. I mean, that just truly astounded me.

ROSE: Amendment One is the constitutional ban on gay marriage that was approved by 61 percent of North Carolina voters. Those votes did not fall purely along party lines, but talk to Democrats on the street and there's one word you'll hear.

ANDREA GAMLIN: I'm embarrassed by what our state did.

LOUISE BHAVNANI: I'm embarrassed. I'm very embarrassed.

ROSE: That was Andrea Gamlin and Louise Bhavnani.

A gay rights group has gathered thousands of signatures to an online petition demanding the convention move to another state. National party leaders say they're committed to making it a success in Charlotte, but North Carolina Democrats like State Representative Pricey Harrison admit the timing's not ideal.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE PRICEY HARRISON: Because we're not in charge.

ROSE: In 2010, Republicans took control of the State House and Senate for the first time in a century. The sitting Democratic governor has since become so powerless and unpopular, she decided not to run for re-election. So, says Harrison...

HARRISON: There's not a lot that we get to claim credit for now, because it's all been defense. But I think that we've got a track record and a legacy that we can be proud of in North Carolina.

ROSE: Communicating that legacy is a big responsibility of the North Carolina Democratic Party, which is currently in disarray over that harassment scandal. But a spokesman says the state party is continuing to do the work necessary to elect Democrats up and down the ticket.

Way down the ticket, Dan McCorkle is managing campaigns for several Charlotte Democrats. And you know why he's not too worried about the state of the state party? The Obama campaign is already here with volunteers:

DAN MCCORKLE: They're everywhere. They're motivated. They're working every day to get the base Democratic vote out. And that, in the end, is the most important thing that's happening in North Carolina right now.

ROSE: Obama campaign volunteer Olivia Reburn hasn't given much thought to the recent setbacks of Democrats in North Carolina. She actually lives just across the state line in South Carolina, but is volunteering in Charlotte because...

OLIVIA REBURN: I think this is the place to be in the Southeast, as far as, you know, working for the Democratic Party and getting people energized to vote.

ROSE: She feels like North Carolina really matters in 2012. So do the Republicans, who recently announced a plan to send their own volunteers from South Carolina up to this battleground state.

For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose in North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: