Democratic National Convention 2012 Notebook: Kickoff rallies enthusiasm for convention, a tough 2012 election

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Shouts of “Yes, we can” — with the updated addition, “do it again.” Noisy supporters shoulder to shoulder. The Livingstone College marching band blaring upbeat tunes. And chants of a phrase I had not heard in awhile: “Fired up; ready to go.”

All the Democratic Party has to do is transfer the spirit of its Charlotte national convention kickoff to its voting base. That’s going to be tough given the polls showing the electorate’s distaste for all that is Washington. But the scene on Tuesday in the concourse of Time Warner Cable Arena recalled an earlier political time as the party looks one year forward to its national convention.

The crowd, estimated at about 2,000, came out despite a storm threat to hear DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz praise Charlotte, the city that “didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer” when competing to win the convention. “Now it’s time to show the rest of the country and the rest of the world … that Charlotte is a world-class city,” she said, using that descriptor without the trace of irony you sometimes detect in long-time Charlotteans. She connected the city — its story of “strengthening and diversifying” through investments in education, technology, research and development — to the narrative of the Democratic Party.

Wasserman Schultz did some politicking, emphasizing the importance of North Carolina — which Obama won in 2008 — in the presidential election, urging turnout for 2011 local elections and previewing President Obama’s Thursday jobs speech.

“It’s the other side that has dug in and allowed their tea party extremists to take over and refuse to allow any moderate voice to come through,” the U.S. Congresswoman from Florida said after the event. “I’m certainly hopeful that the Republicans will realize after being in their districts for the last month that the American people, their constituents just like ours, want us to work together. If not, then President Obama is prepared to stump through the country and make sure that he explains to the American people what the difference is.”

(Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee was releasing a radio ad in North Carolina and seven other states Obama won in 2008 noting the high unemployment rate and criticizing the president’s economic leadership.)

Mayor Anthony Foxx, co-chair of Committee for Charlotte 2012 who is facing his own re-election contest this November, reached back before Revolutionary War times to begin a timeline of the city’s accomplishments and spirit, and he offered proposals to engage young people and small businesses in the convention.

Of course, Tuesday’s rally was for a city and region as well as a political party. It’s emotional and practical, this chance to show Charlotte and the region in the national and international spotlight and to boost businesses as 35,000 visitors hit town. Former Mayor Harvey Gantt said, “We’re ready to seize the opportunity, and market the Queen City to the entire world.”

After Wasserman Schultz unveiled the official 2012 Democratic National convention logo — an echo of Obama’s with an embracing throng taking the starring role — some in the crowd bought the merchandise.

Phin Xaypangna came away with two pins ($3 each, two for $5) and a $10 water bottle. She was optimistic the energy of the day would “pull the community together” and “continue to make Charlotte more inclusive.”

Bethany Green, 35, a stay-at-home mother of two from Indian Trail, N.C., said she now has time to volunteer, “something I did when I was younger.” She said she wants her 5- and 7-year-old to see the process, “a pretty amazing, peaceful transition” that happens every four years, even if there’s a change, something she’d rather not see in 2012. “I approve of Obama’s policies. You can’t cut, cut, cut and be successful,” Green said.

That puts her at odds with those who turned out in Columbia on Labor Day to hear GOP candidates at South Carolina senator and conservative kingmaker Jim DeMint’s Palmetto Freedom Forum.

That gathering — one state and many political opinions away — means the peace Green is looking for in the process is a long shot for campaign 2012.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to The Root, NPR, Creative Loafing and the Nieman Watchdog blog. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 on TV’s Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.

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