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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Charlotte ’12: Less Than Meets the Eye

There’s a surprising amount of buzz going around about the significance of Democrats choosing Charlotte as the site of the 2012 National Convention. Does it mean Obama’s brain trust has decided to make North Carolina–which Democrats improbably won in 2008–a major target in ’12? Does it represent an “invasion” of a southern region where anti-Obama sentiments have been powerfully on the rise?
Probably not. The consensus of political science research is that convention locations have little or no impact on general election voting patterns. Choosing a convention city has more to do with local “buy-in”–facility, fundraising and volunteer commitments, hotel space, airline access, etc.–than with any strategic considerations. Democrats met in “blue states” in every convention between 1976 (New York) and 2004 (Boston), other than in 1988 (Atlanta). I don’t know anyone who thinks Obama won Colorado in 2008 because the convention was in Denver. Indeed, you can make the argument that conventions distract local partisans and disrupt general election planning as much as they contribute anything to the cause, though the Obama folk did do a good job of mobilizing convention attendees in Denver to conduct some door-to-door campaigning while in town.
Democrats do have a bit of a problem in Charlotte because there are no union hotels there (there was only one in Denver). Presumably some accomodation will be made to satisfy the labor movement that its concerns are being met.
The more interesting question (particular to me, as one of the floating tribe of volunteers who help staff Democratic conventions every four years, or at least since 1988) is whether either party will decisively break the mold and make the convention something other than a long series of podium speeches pitched to an ever-declining television audience. In 2008, Republicans killed off most of the afternoon sessions that gave non-celebrity pols a chance to say they had spoken to a national convention. But the basic construction of suits-at-a-podium remained in place. As with the nominating process that leads up to the convention, changing the system is difficult without knowing whom it might favor or discomfit; conventions are invariably run from top to bottom by the nominee and his or her staff. But since Democrats already know the identity of their 2012 nominee, they are theoretically in a position to think outside the box in staging a convention. We’ll see if Democrats rise to the occasion.

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