Though actor-activist Kal Penn and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter were visiting Charlotte as surrogates for the Obama campaign, both are drawn to Charlotte for other reasons.
Penn, the “Harold & Kumar” star and former White House aide, had visited during the 2008 presidential campaign and was back this week to energize young voters. “I love Charlotte,” he told me when we talked in the Uptown Obama for America office on Wednesday, “and in the last two years I’ve gotten really into NASCAR.” When he returns for the convention, he said he wants to check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame, “or even some of the offices I think I would dork out over.” Though Penn hasn’t seen a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he has been to races in Las Vegas and Fontana, Calif. Penn follows drivers Joey Logano and Leilani Munter, known for speaking out on environmental issues. “She’s really socially aware.”
Penn said that when he goes to NASCAR races, fans have asked, “Hey, didn’t you work for the president?” Then, he said, they whisper some variation of, “'Just so you know, me and my family are huge Obama supporters, but I feel like I shouldn’t talk about that here,' and I’m like, 'Why not, it’s fine to talk about anywhere.' The fans are awesome. ... Even if you disagree on politics they’re really friendly.” When I reminded him that NASCAR has a development program to diversify its ranks of drivers, the Indian American actor wondered if he could qualify before ruling it out. “I can barely drive my hybrid car.”
Last week was Mayor Nutter’s first visit to Charlotte, but he also will be back during the Democratic National Convention next month. He traveled around the city, making media stops and visiting volunteers. When I caught up with him at the Uptown Obama office, he was sitting down with volunteers to answer questions on everything from health-care reform to education funding to a voter-ID bill being challenged in his home state.
“I made a commitment to President Obama sometime back — anytime, anyplace, anywhere they need me to go,” he told me. Nutter called Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx “a great, great friend” and a “rising star in the Democratic party.”
Greg Hurt, a Charlotte driving instructor, came to the conversation with his wife, Brenda Hurt, an elementary school teacher, and their 18-year-son Travis, a rising first-year student at Central Piedmont Community College. “I’m looking forward to the Affordable Care Act being fully implemented,” said Greg Hurt, who now receives insurance through his wife’s job. “As Americans, we can’t afford for it not to be.” The Obama supporter looked back with nostalgia to the Ronald Reagan years, which he remembered as less contentious than today’s political debates.
Not surprisingly, Nutter agreed with his assessment, saying the Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan budget plans “want to balance the tough economic times on the backs of those who can afford it the least.”
The serious talk turned to other matters as Nutter prepared to head for the airport. First, he said, there would be a stop at Bojangles’ and “then, I’ve got to get me a shake at Cook-Out.”
In other convention news, the Democratic National Convention Committee and Obama for America has announced another way (besides its 9-3-1 campaign for volunteers) the public can try for “community credentials” to attend Obama and Vice President Biden’s acceptance speeches at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 6. Anyone interested in signing up can visit the website.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte-based journalist, is a contributor to The Washington Post's “She the People” blog, The Root and theGrio. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 a.m. on Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.