CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The main drag through downtown Charlotte looked a bit like Times Square on Sunday night, as revelers and out-of-towners converged to gawk at the flashing city around them.
The electric scene before the start of the Democratic National Convention belies the trouble under the surface.
For Democrats, North Carolina was an awkward choice and represents some of the challenges President Obama faces this Election Day.
Unemployment here is at 9.6 percent, well above the national average. The governor of the state, Democrat Bev Perdue, was rated as the least popular governor in the country in a recent survey and does not plan to seek re-election.
The state’s laws also run counter to Democrats’ publicly held positions. It is a right-to-work state, meaning workers cannot be forced to pay union dues — and meaning unions weren’t too thrilled about the decision to host the convention here. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a memo last month that the union “won’t be buying skyboxes or bringing a big staff to the convention,” and other big labor groups have declined to contribute to the cost of the convention, after doing so in 2008.
Earlier this year, North Carolina voters also decided to approve a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, just as Obama became the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage.
And while Obama turned the red state blue in 2008, winning it by a nose, Mitt Romney appears to be slightly ahead going into November.
A new Elon University/Charlotte Observer poll out Monday showed Romney leading 47 percent to 43 percent in North Carolina. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Despite these issues, North Carolina remains important to the Obama campaign’s 2012 strategy. Winning the state would be a big boost on the way to the 270 electoral votes it takes to win the election. And Romney may just be experiencing a slight bump out of his party’s national convention last week.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, defended the decision to bring the convention to Charlotte.
“We were planting a flag in the South and sending a strong message across the country that we weren’t going to cede any region of this country to the Republicans,” she told Fox News on Monday.
North Carolinians, she said, “know that President Obama has been fighting for the middle class and working families.”
But the economy in North Carolina, among other states, is sure to weigh on Obama’s re-election bid.
Mike Rash, a local realtor who had to close his company’s doors about 18 months ago, told Fox News he “drank the Kool-Aid” in 2008 and voted for Obama. He quipped that he’ll be drinking “from a different pitcher” this year, supporting Rommey.
“The promises that were made four years ago certainly haven’t been met,” Rash said.
North Carolina GOP spokesman Rob Lockwood told FoxNews.com the Democrats “are in a lot of trouble in North Carolina,” though he thanked the party for bringing their business to town.
“They brag about having never left and having kept their campaign apparatus intact. But they have lost 116,000 voters since 2008,” he said.
Democrats, though, are predicting a solid convention week and stress that Obama must be the choice this November unless Americans want to return to the policies which, they say, created the economic crisis of 2008.
“I think we are going to have a good week in Charlotte,” Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod told “Fox News Sunday.”
He claimed that Democrats don’t struggle with being unified around their nominee like Republicans, referring to lingering intra-party tension at the GOP convention in Tampa last week.
“We don’t have the problems that the other party has. We’re not divided. We don’t have to worry about, you know, what people are saying on the side or about their affection for the president,” Axelrod said. “We don’t have those problems and we don’t have the reinvention convention. We are a unified party.”