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Democrats, supporters appear split over Charlotte as convention choice

In less than 100 days, Democrats will gather in Charlotte, N.C., for their presidential nominating convention.

The city was a natural choice after President Obama in 2008 turned a reliably red state to blue for the first time since Jimmy Carter won it in 1976.

But how things can change in four years.

Since the president squeaked out victory in the Tar Heel state, Republicans took control of the legislature for the first time in 100 years; Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue declined to seek re-election; unemployment moved to fifth-worst in the country; and voters passed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage just days before Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

All of this has many people asking – why was it that the Democrats picked Charlotte?

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It sent the right message for Democrats that they were going to fight. 

“As it has happened, with lots of different events including the gay marriage referendum and the fact that some polls have Romney leading in North Carolina, maybe it wasn’t the best place to have the convention.”

Scott Stone, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Charlotte in 2011,  agrees.

“If the (Democratic National Committee) chose Charlotte because they want a great venue with great folks and have a good time, they picked absolutely the right place,” he told Fox News. “If they picked it because they think Charlotte is going to help them win North Carolina, they’re absolutely wrong because North Carolina will not go Democratic in 2012.”

It wouldn’t take much to swing North Carolina back to the red column. 

Obama won there by just 14,000 votes, out of 4.2 million cast.

Statewide polls have the race neck-and-neck, though a recent Rasmussen poll puts Romney ahead 51 percent to 43 percent.  

Of all the issues concerning North Carolina voters, same-sex marriage is perhaps the one that most shows the divide between the president and the direction of the state.

A surprising number of black voters came out in support of the ban, revealing a split in the president’s most reliable demographic.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx hopes voters are thinking about other things by November. 

The same-sex amendment is “one issue of a thousand that people have to think about and parse through in this election,” he told Fox News. “I think, frankly, by the time the election comes around, the thing that’s going to be on most people’s minds is who is going to create more jobs.”

When the amendment passed, supporters of same-sex marriage appealed to the DNC to move the convention from Charlotte. A petition drive on www.change.org has drawn more than 32,000 signatures.  

The DNC insists Charlotte is the perfect place for the Sept. 3-6 convention -- a way for the president to keep his toehold in the South and a possible route to victory in November.

“We can’t just retreat to safe territory,” said DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse.  “We can’t go back to a map where we’re not growing the electorate, but where we’re shrinking it.  So we have to be in places like North Carolina.”

The DNC hopes to use the convention as a focal point for a drive to register new voters and get them out to the polls in November.

"Without a big margin in the Charlotte area, Obama has no chance to carry North Carolina,” Sabato said. "So it is important that he use the convention as a staging ground to improve his standing which is clearly deteriorated since 2008."

Getting out the vote will be crucial for the president. But unions, one of his biggest machines, also are not pleased with the convention site. 

North Carolina is a right-to-work state. And unions are so upset about the location that they have withheld their important financial contribution to the convention. 

The DNC is trying to appease them by bringing union labor in from out of state to work the event.  

The Democrats’ big bash will also offer some intriguing and possibly uncomfortable contrasts.

When the president accepts his party’s nomination, he will do it in a stadium bearing the name Bank Of America, which is headquartered in the city. 

The bank received tens of billions of dollars in federal bailout funds, much of which was used to pay executive bonuses.

 And the president’s relentless attack on the financial industry may not play well in a town that has reinvented itself around banking.  

“He can’t keep demagoging the banks because in North Carolina, you cannot compare Wall Street against Main Street, because the banks – in Charlotte – they are our main street,” Stone said.

John Roberts joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in January 2011 as a senior national correspondent and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

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