Ralph Blackburn at the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, NC – “You’re from England? Wow, for the DNC?” The checkout assistant, in a suburban supermarket was almost speechless in surprise, “everybody’s going crazy about it.” With that statement, he was just about spot on. When walking around uptown Charlotte, for some reason they call downtown uptown, you are a confronted by a multitude of different credentials, swaying like pendulums from thousands of delegates’, volunteers’ and journalists’ necks. Police, from Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham and even as far as Charleston, South Carolina, and Georgia, patrol the streets, often arranged rather bizarrely in divisions on push bikes due to multiple roads being blocked off. Groups of ten to fifteen armed police will slowly circulate blocks, cycling slightly off balance, looking decidedly placid. Although past all the merriment and excitement, there’s a lot of pressure on Charlotte and the Democrat National Convention to be a success, to give Obama a second term.
The choice of Charlotte for the convention is no coincidence, Barack Obama won North Carolina by a mere 14,000 votes in 2008 and is currently thought to be 4 points behind Mitt Romney in the state. The importance of the 16 electoral college votes was highlighted today with Paul Ryan holding a ‘counter convention’ in Greenville, North Carolina, about 200 miles away. He immediately referenced the Democrat Convention saying, “as some of you may have heard there’s something going on in Charlotte,” suggesting the GOP are slightly worried about a probable post convention bump for the Democrats. The Republican National Convention did not get any bump, with Romney’s speech being the worst received since pollsters began assessing convention speeches. Gallup found that 40% of people said they were more likely to vote for Romney, 38% saying they were less likely and 28% saying they didn’t care either way. This will concern the GOP, given Obama gained record approval ratings for his speech in 2008, with 58% saying they more likely to vote him, and this year, by staging it in the 75,000 seater Bank of America Stadium, in Charlotte, Obama is again going for maximum impact. There have been questions about whether Obama still has the pull to attract such a crowd, and that is where Charlotte comes into play. It must invigorate and enthuse the convention to give Obama the bump he needs to take him clear of Romney in the polls.
It appears as if the natives are already getting well and truly behind the convention. The streets are flooded with locals enjoying the atmosphere and vibrancy. When asked what he thought of the convention, one local replied, “it’s great, it’s really putting us on the map.” In the middle of the Epicentre complex at the heart of uptown Charlotte, MSNBC had positioned their reporting stage, drawing huge crowds to cheer behind the reporters. It was a marked contrast to the Republican Convention, when at times people seemed to care more about what condiments to apply to their hot dogs, than getting involved. Another clever move by the Democrats, was to time their convention with Carolinafest, the annual labour day celebration, held in the heart of Charlotte. This brought more crowds to the relatively small uptown area, and gave the convention a carnivalesque atmosphere. Janelle Monae and Jeff Bridges wowed the crowds, with Monae saying, “I’m here today because I’m supporting a man who’s looking out for women.” There is a crackle in the air, of people ready to put up a fight, and it would appear if this atmosphere continues Barack Obama will find himself with some breathing space between himself and Mitt Romney after the convention.