CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s the Democrats’ turn now.
After a week of bruising broadsides on President Obama’s record by the GOP brass, Democrats have assembled a national convention this week in North Carolina they hope will give Obama a dynamic, prime-time opportunity to convince Americans he deserves another shot at running the county.
Yet Obama and party leaders open the event Monday with essentially the same challenge faced at smaller campaign stops across the country -- convincing Americans that the president can indeed fix the economy and restore middle-class opportunity amid high unemployment, crushing debt and wavering support from unions and congressional Democrats.
“The president created 4.5 million new jobs in the last 29 months,” senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on “Fox News Sunday,” defending the president’s record. “Some industries would have collapsed had the president not intervened. So I think (Americans) are better off.”
The stage is set in Charlotte for Obama and his many surrogates to make that argument. Delegates streamed into town over the weekend, and security was ramping up to presidential levels Sunday. Thousands of media, fresh off the Republican convention in Tampa, have settled into makeshift workspaces throughout the city. While the formal speaking program will not get under way until Tuesday, Democratic organizers will participate in a Labor Day celebration downtown on Monday.
Democrats, though, have chosen a peculiar state for this convention. While North Carolina is a battleground state that Obama won in 2008, it has since been throttled by high unemployment, now at 9.6 percent, and the state Democratic party is in turmoil.
A former state party staffer alleged earlier this year that he was sexually harassed by the party's former executive director. And Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s approval rating is so low that she is not seeking re-election.
In addition, North Carolina being a business-friendly state has reportedly alienated at least one union.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is scheduled to be in Charlotte but recently made clear the union will have a smaller-than-usual presence.
“In recognition of the changes we have made in our political program … this year we will not be making major monetary contributions to the convention or the host committee for events or activities around the convention,” Trumka said in a letter last month to union officials, according to Politico.
Perdue remains loyal to the president and is scheduled to speak at the three-day event being held largely at the Time Warner Cable Arena and the roughly 73,000-seat Bank of America Stadium, where Obama is scheduled to speak Thursday night.
Other scheduled speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Newark Mayor Corey Booker and Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
“I thank the Democrats for coming to North Carolina,” said state GOP party spokesman Rob Lockwood. “This will be great for the Charlotte economy. I hope they spend lots of money in small businesses. But they are in a lot of trouble in North Carolina. They brag about having never left and having kept their campaign apparatus intact. But they have lost 116,000 voters since 2008.”
The most recent polls have Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in a statistical tie, about 10 weeks before Election Day. The last Democratic president to win North Carolina before Obama was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
While Obama remains locked in the tight race, several Capitol Hill Democrats facing tough re-election bid or running in Republican-leaning states are staying away from the convention, including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, among Obama’s strongest Capitol Hill allies.
McCaskill has said she is better served campaigning at home and would “bet” the president agrees with the decision.
Others reportedly not making the trip include Montana Sen. John Tester, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Utah Rep. Jim Matheson.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Axelrod also said of Fox. “And Charlotte is going to be a big part of it.”