State News

Charlotte highlights one-year convention countdown

Posted September 6, 2011 9:58 a.m. EDT
Updated September 7, 2011 11:10 a.m. EDT

— With a year to go before the 2012 Democratic National Convention, party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in North Carolina Tuesday to help start a local countdown to the event.

The convention is expected to attract to more than 35,000 delegates, media members and guests to North Carolina's largest city, where it's likely that President Barack Obama will be named the party's nominee for a second term.

"President Obama won North Carolina in 2008, and we know it's going to be competitive in 2012," Wasserman Schultz told about 2,000 people gathered at the Time Warner Cable Arena. "Together we will keep North Carolina blue and return Barack Obama to the White House."

Echoing Obama's motto from the 2008 election, the crowd chanted "Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we will."

"It was awesome – I mean the energy," attendee Emma Farmer said of the kickoff event. "I've never stood for over two hours for anything, and this was well worth it."

A congresswoman from Florida, Wasserman Schultz said North Carolina is central to the Democrats' national electoral strategy and that she looks forward to spending more time in the Queen City.

"Charlotte is a jewel in the South and the country," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We have an opportunity to showcase it to the world and highlight the reasons that we chose Charlotte as the host for our convention."

That choice has not been popular with many labor leaders, who cite North Carolina's reputation as an anti-union bastion. Last month, 12 trade unions affiliated with the national AFL-CIO told the Democratic National Committee that they will boycott the 2012 convention.

Wasserman Schultz said she met Monday with James Andrews, president of the AFL-CIO's North Carolina chapter. She said Andrews assured here the state union will fully support the Charlotte convention.

She said the Democratic Party is working to ensure that contractors for the event represent "diverse" groups, including unionized workers.

"We expect that there will be the union label as an integral part of the Democratic National Convention in 2012," she said. "We have a commitment to making this the most diverse convention, both in terms of staffing and access to providing services and procurement. I think that will be in dramatic contract to the way the Republicans are doing it."

The Charlotte host committee is raising between $36 million and $37 million for the convention. Organizers say they won't accept any donations from special interest groups, lobbyists or political-action committees, calling it a grassroots effort funded by the people.

The state and national GOP issued statements Tuesday citing Wasserman Schultz's visit and blaming Democrats for the nation's ongoing economic woes.

"Friday's announcement that zero jobs were created in August is another painful reminder that America still awaits economic leadership from President Obama," said Ryan Tronovitch, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "The fact that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is celebrating the failed economic policies of Barack Obama in Charlotte is just the latest out-of-touch action from the White House and their top surrogates."

Though Obama narrowly carried North Carolina in the 2008 election, the state veered to the right in 2010, handing Republicans control of both chambers in the statehouse for the first time since Reconstruction. With a strong tea party presence in the state, the Charlotte convention is expected to draw spirited protests.

Wasserman Schultz said convention organizers are working with Charlotte officials, including Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx, to make sure the event is open and accessible.

"There won't be any problem with people who are attending the convention, planning to be involved," she said. "This is America, and Democrats obviously support everyone's right to free speech. There will be, like any other convention, an opportunity for individuals to stage their protests, but doing so without interfering with the participants."

As a sign of the openness, Democratic leaders unveiled the official logo for the convention. Styled like Obama's logo from 2008, the O-shaped logo features a crowd of people under a blue sky.

"The logo is really kind of cool. It's people together. It still ties in the Obama logo," attendee Colleen Brooks said.

"(It shows) the community and what we're all about. We're all about the people," Farmer said.