Will Charlotte Democratic Convention Influence North Carolina Voters?

Last week’s announcement that the 2012 Democratic convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, was met with a flurry of speculation about the decision’s political ramifications.

Last week’s announcement that the 2012 Democratic convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, was met with a flurry of speculation about the decision’s political ramifications.   In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina since 1976, and the first to win its neighbor, Virginia, since 1964. Given the heavy losses that Democrats suffered last year in the South, many have wondered whether Obama will be forced to scale back his ambitions in his re-election campaign. In this regard, the selection of Charlotte over the other cities in contention—St. Louis, Cleveland and Minneapolis—has been read as a clear statement that Obama intends to compete on just as broad a map in 2012 as he did in 2008 An unnamed Democratic official confirmed this interpretation in an interview with Roll Call, stating that “we are going to go as big in 2012 as we did in 2008.”   While the location of a party’s nominating convention can undoubtedly have great symbolic importance, whether it has any impact on the electoral outcome in the host state is questionable. The 2012 Republican convention will be held in Tampa, Florida, the first time since 1992 that the GOP will convene in what is, arguably, friendly territory. The Democrats, meanwhile, in recent years have generally gathered in states that favor them.   The 2008 Democratic convention, held in Denver, Colorado, was something of an exception. A classic swing state, Colorado had been won by George W. Bush by more than 5 points in both 2000 and 2004, but by 2008 it was trending Democratic. Obama went on to win it by 9 points. Did holding the convention in the state—and drawing 60,000 fans to watch him give his acceptance speech in an outdoor stadium—help boost Obama’s numbers there? Hard to say, but it probably didn’t hurt.   Meanwhile, the Republicans held their 2008 convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. The state had not voted for a Republican in a presidential election since 1972, and Obama went on to win it by 10 points. A New York Times article at the time the location was selected highlighted the party’s intention to do what it could to assist then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in his reelection bid, but Republican officials have also been quoted to the effect that the city was simply the most competitive bidder.   In 2004, the Republicans chose to meet in New York City, not because the state was competitive for Republicans, but to capitalize on the city’s connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and public support for President Bush’s leadership in their aftermath. Bush went on to lose New York by 18 points, though the choice of location may have paid off elsewhere in a tight election largely focused on national security issues. The Democratic convention that year was held in Boston, the hometown of the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, who went on to win Massachusetts by 25 points, but lose the election by the margin of Ohio’s electoral votes. Perhaps a Cleveland convention would have been a better choice . . .   In 2000, the Republican convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in order to challenge the assumption that Bill Clinton’s two wins in Pennsylvania had pushed the state irretrievably into the Democratic column. It didn’t work; then–Texas Gov. Bush lost the state by 6 points. The Democratic convention in 2000 was held in Los Angeles, despite threats of unionized labor protests over the location of the DNC headquarters in that city (threats that also surfaced in 2004 and 2008 as well—and may well return with a vengeance, as labor leaders are reportedly fuming over the Democrats’ decision to start next year’s convention on Labor Day in the country’s least unionized state). The Republicans had not carried California since 1988, and 2000 was no different—Al Gore won the state by 11 points.   In 1996, the Republicans convened in San Diego, and won just 38 percent of the vote in California (to 51 percent for the Democrats and 11 percent for Ross Perot’s Reform Party). Meanwhile, the Democrats met in Chicago, and won 54 percent of the vote in Illinois.   In short, the Democrats have won every state where they held a presidential convention in since 1992 (when they met in New York City). In 1988, the Democratic convention was held in Atlanta—and the Democrats lost Georgia by 20 points. Conversely, Republicans have not won the general election in the state where they held their convention since 1992, when the GOP met in Houston—and managed to scrape out a win in Texas that year by just 3.5 points.   Of course, the debate over the political effect of party conventions doesn’t end at the presidential level. Roll Call quoted Democratic Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill saying that she was “bitterly disappointed” that the candidate from her state, St. Louis, had been passed over for Charlotte. However, a New York Times article suggested that McCaskill actually lobbied behind the scenes against holding the convention in her state on the logic that doing so would attract the attention of her opponents and drive up their turnout.  Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com

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