Mayor Anthony Foxx, who raised his profile as host of and speaker at the Democratic National Convention in September, was no less committed to the president at a far smaller gathering in a Charlotte home. On Tuesday, a week before a national election being fought in part on a North Carolina battleground, he was firing up — to use an Obama slogan — a few dozen volunteers who share his goal.
“Do we want to see America, the country that can do the impossible, continuing moving forward with the values and ethics of generations that preceded us? Or do we want to change the nature of the American dream?” Foxx said. That’s how he and the volunteers who have been canvassing and phone banking frame the choice as they work long hours to win the state’s 15 electoral votes for Obama. Whether his 2008 narrow win can be repeated has been a matter of dispute and gamesmanship between the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns, but polls remain close so no one’s letting up.
Foxx has been a visible Obama friend and surrogate, with many tagging him as a rising Democratic Party star. My recent post for theGrio.com took note of the fact that four years after Obama’s historic win, there are fewer African-Americans in the U.S. Senate and governor’s offices across the country than at the time of his 2009 inauguration. In the story, former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt named Foxx as someone who could rise politically.
“North Carolina can make this call easy,” Foxx said on Tuesday, imagining an Election Day victory for Obama in the state. “We can make it an early night.” If that happens, it will certainly add to Foxx’s political presence.
Alyene Keen, the retired owner of Dilworth Coffee and mother of four, wore the same “Obama Mama” button she had on at the west Charlotte campaign office where we first met. Areas in her sprawling Charlotte home are marked with signs — boiler room, phone banking room and “we work for treats” in the kitchen, where the volunteers who come through seven days a week can stop for snacks. It’s all in service of a president she said “is looking out for everyone.”
Volunteers ranged from Linda Bruning, 62, who said, “The president has done more positive things than people realize,” to 13-year-old Zoe Ghilardi, a former Charlottean now living in Italy, who returned to work for the Obama campaign. Wendy Mills, who teaches English at Central Piedmont Community College, said, “I’m pro-education, pro-veteran — my husband’s a vet — and Obamacare saved the life of a friend here in Charlotte.”
They all listened as Marcie Shealy, “breast cancer survivor and mother” as she described herself, praised Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and his support of the student grants and loans her children and others may need.
Dr. David Callaway, an Iraq War vet and emergency room medic in Charlotte, said he is a registered independent who has never spoken out politically before. He finds it “a little insulting,” he said, that the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket has so little foreign policy experience. Callaway said the president has stayed true to his duty to veterans by supporting increased funding for the VA and jobs plans for returning vets. “I have no idea where Mitt Romney stands on any issues."
The demographically diverse crowd at Keen’s home belied recent polls that show an increasing polarized electorate and prejudice against blacks and Hispanics on the rise in the last four years. When I asked Foxx about that, he said: “If this country votes according to its interests, its interests in growing jobs, its interests in investing in our young people and giving them a platform to learn and to grow into the 21st century and compete; if we vote to invest in ourselves through infrastructure, to eliminate those tax breaks that incentivize countries to go overseas ... those issues don’t have a racial bias. ... I still believe on balance that this election is going to turn this president’s way because he’s focused on the right things for our future.”
With that, a life-sized cardboard Obama — a candidate who’s also navigated questions about race and politics in America - looked on and smiled.
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