CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The irony of Sunday night’s welcoming reception for Georgia delegates to the Democratic National Convention at the NASCAR Hall of Fame was twofold.
First, this was the palace that Charlotte was able to snake away from Atlanta several years ago. Or maybe NASCAR used Atlanta to force a sweeter bid from Charlotte. Opinions differ.
Then there is the fact that President Barack Obama’s fan base and NASCAR’s don’t exactly correspond. Purists might say that stock cars driven by the likes of Richard Petty don’t mix with a sound track that included Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” But that’s what happened inside the museum.
The original idea, said Mike Berlon, chairman of the Georgia Democratic party, was to have the DNC-sponsored reception in the midfield of the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“What they don’t understand is – there’s only five of our delegates that know anything about NASCAR. This stuff is pretty cool, but I don’t know what it is,” Berlon said. One of those five delegates who have breathed in the exhaust fumes is DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, attending his first political convention. He’s been to three NASCAR races. “A buddy of mine is a big NASCAR guy,” he said. They sit in the box maintained by the people who make Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
“I’m not a NASCAR fan, but I’m always interested in anything new,” Brown said.
The NASCAR venue highlighted a weakness of the Democratic party in Georgia. To win in Georgia, Democrats need roughly a third of the votes cast by white men. In the 2010 race for governor, Democrat Roy Barnes received about 15 percent.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to close that gap,” Berlon said.
As an impolite reminder of that gap, the Republican National Committee this morning laid claim to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They’ll officially open a “rapid response center” at the hall to highlight the GOP message.
The state party chairman admitted that he – like many supporters of President Obama’s re-election bid – is worried about the so-called “enthusiasm gap.”
”[It’s] a lot different than it was four years ago. This year we don’t see the same level of enthusiasm, because we’re now four years into the presidency. Some of it has faded. But I still think we’re going to win this election.
“Motivation is huge, especially on the Democratic side. The big thing for us is voter turnout. We know there are more Democrats in Georgia than Republicans. We know that for a fact. The problem is, we don’t win because of turnout.”
Berlon said he still holds out hope that Georgia could surprise the nation in November:
”We’ve already registered more voters that we think will vote for us than the spread was in 2008. When Karl Rove moves Georgia from ‘strong’ Republican to ‘lean,’ that’s good for us. The reality is, if we win Georgia, Obama wins the presidency under any set of circumstances.”
Only one member of Congress from Georgia was spotted at the NASCAR reception – Sanford Bishop of Albany. One congressman certain not to show up ath the convention this week is John Barrow of Augusta, who is locked in a tough battle to keep his job. Berlon said he understood:
”I have a lot of respect for John. John really understands how to run a race, and I never would count John out. I’m fairly confident John’s going to win that race. People may not like what John has to say, especially our hard-core base. I’d rather have John 70 percent of the time than a Republican zero percent.”
From the daily presidential campaign wrap by the Associated Press:
Obama’s backers were up early to try a morning do-over of his supporters’ less-than-rosy answers Sunday when asked to answer the classic campaign question: Are Americans better off than they were four years ago?
“Absolutely,” said Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, speaking on NBC’s “Today” show. “By any measure the country has moved forward over the last four years. It might not be as fast as some people would’ve hoped. The president agrees with that.”
Martin O’Malley, Maryland’s Democratic governor, had answered the same question with a “no” on Sunday before turning the blame to Obama’s Republican predecessor. Appearing Monday on CNN, O’Malley tried a more positive turn of phrase, saying: “We are clearly better off as a country because we’re now creating jobs rather than losing them. But we have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That’s why we need to continue to move forward” under Obama.
A look at the impact of Georgia’s voter ID law by the AJC’s Shannon McCaffery includes these numbers:
Since November 2008, the ballots of 1,586 Georgians didn’t count because of the law. (They arrived at the polls without a photo ID, cast provisional ballots, and did not return later with the required ID.) Overall, 13.6 million votes were cast in the state during the same period….
Elections data reviewed by the AJC show that participation among black voters rose by 44 percent from 2006 — before the law was implemented — to 2010. For Hispanics, the increase for the same period was 67 percent. Turnout among whites rose 12 percent.
Look for a host of stories out of Charlotte to focus on Michelle Obama as the big difference – and possible difference-maker – between the 2012 and the one four years ago.
Michelle Obama flies into Charlotte this afternoon. She’ll be the star of the convention’s Tuesday slate of speakers – and is booked solid through the week.
Larry Peters of the Savannah Morning News wonders whether a Mitt Romney win in November would make Attorney General Sam Olens become the next Kasim Reed:
Every Georgia politician knows if they want anything from Washington, their best chance is going through Reed.
Likewise, as Romney’s earliest elected backer here, Olens could have entree that the governor and U.S. senators don’t have.
The whole state can benefit from that.
Columnist Charlie Harper makes the same point in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:
Olens is sitting in the catbird seat if this is his goal, as being able to curry favor from D.C. for the state would help him firmly establish and grow his Georgia political base during a Romney administration. The visibility afforded to him in such a role would be mostly behind the scenes, yet clear to the political and fundraising network required to run an expensive campaign for the top of a ticket in a state with almost 10 million people.
That stuff about low taxes being the key to economic recovery? According to the Rome News-Tribune, someone didn’t get the memo:
Northwest Georgia cities and counties have set up meetings in the coming weeks to decide if they’ll re-impose the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing.
The Georgia General Assembly removed the tax — it phases out during a four-year period, beginning in January — but left the option for a local excise tax.
If elected officials don’t take action by the end of the year, they’ll start seeing a revenue drain in 2013.
“Nobody will tell us how much that is, but I’d guess it’s between 5 percent and 25 percent of our sales tax,” Rome City Manager John Bennett told his board this week. “You need to know; it could be a killer-diller.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider