- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., is shaping up to be a rickety display of party unity, with labor boycotts, fundraising shortfalls, scheduling changes, official snubs, a major gay-rights embarrassment, a sex scandal and a Republican resurgence in the host state.

The latest setback for President Obama’s renominating party is the cancellation of the convention’s kickoff event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Labor Day, as organizers contend with a fundraising deficit reported to be $27 million.

“To be sure, the optics are bad when these sorts of negative stories dominate the news coverage of the lead-up to the convention,” said John Dinan, professor of political science at Wake Forest University.

Dan Murrey, executive director of the Charlotte 2012 Convention host committee, said logistics rather than costs were behind the decision to cancel the speedway event. Organizers are moving the first-day activities, dubbed CarolinaFest, to Charlotte. The speedway is about 20 miles outside of town.

“While we regret having to move CarolinaFest away from our great partners at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the City of Concord, we are thrilled with the opportunity that comes with hosting this event in Uptown Charlotte,” Mr. Murrey said in a statement.

“In order to facilitate public caucus meetings - and to maximize accessibility, transportation, and proximity of all guests - we have decided that moving CarolinaFest 2012 to Uptown Charlotte is the best way to achieve that goal,” he said.

This is the second reshuffling of the convention’s schedule.

In January, planners announced that they were shortening the convention from the traditional four days to three to make room for CarolinaFest, intended as a celebration of “the Carolinas, Virginia and the South,” on Sept. 3, the Monday of convention week.

Bloomberg reported this week that the host committee has raised less than $10 million, far short of its $36.6 million goal, although a convention spokeswoman insisted that fundraising is “right on track.”

The party has banned corporate contributions, making fundraising a tougher slog. In 2008, corporations such as AT&T, Union Pacific and Google contributed more than half of the $61 million raised for the Democratic convention in Denver.

Exacerbating the Democrats’ fundraising problems is the selection of Charlotte, which has angered some unions over the city’s labor relations - North Carolina is a right-to-work state, and Charlotte has no unionized hotel workers.

Compounding those aggravating factors for unions, the city is moving its traditional Labor Day parade route, which in previous years passed through downtown, to a more obscure path on the city’s fringes.

City officials, citing security concerns for the changes, also have banned motor vehicles from the parade, preventing unions from showing off their floats, which typically make up about a third of the show. It could turn the city’s Labor Day parade into a protest march against the Democratic convention.

Labor unions contributed $8.6 million to the 2008 Democratic convention, but several construction unions have said they won’t donate to the Charlotte gathering, citing the anti-union atmosphere. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which donated $1 million four years ago, said it won’t contribute this year.

Mr. Dinan said the organizational problems, while a headache for Democrats, are just the tip of the party’s problems in North Carolina.

“It is true that recent developments have provided still other grounds for second-guessing Charlotte as the convention city, including disarray in the state Democratic party leadership, a Democratic governor who is not running for re-election and reports of funding shortfalls,” Mr. Dinan said.

“But the real challenge is that North Carolina has been reliably Republican in most recent presidential elections, with the exception of the highly unusual circumstances of 2008, making it an uphill battle to hold the state in 2012 in a year when states such as Ohio and Florida could be seen as better convention locations, given their always-competitive status,” he said.

Mr. Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by 14,000 votes over Republican John McCain, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Southerner Jimmy Carter in 1976. But the Real Clear Politics average of polls in the past month shows presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney leading by 2 percentage points in North Carolina, even though the Republican has four campaign offices in the state compared with 16 for Mr. Obama.

“It was always more likely that in a more typical election year, the state would swing back to Republicans, who carried the state by 12-percentage-point margins in 2000 and 2004,” Mr. Dinan said. “North Carolina was always going to be an uphill battle for Democrats in 2012.”

Charlotte could become a showcase for other signs of the party fraying.

Democrats staying away from the convention include Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Rep. Mark S. Critz of Pennsylvania, and William L. Owens and Kathleen C. Hochul of New York.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is vulnerable in her bid for another term and was a prominent Obama supporter at the 2008 convention, also plans to skip this year’s gathering. She said she is facing a “hard election” and expressed disappointment at the Obama re-election team’s decision not to contest Missouri.

Rep. Steve Israel, New York Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it’s acceptable for incumbents to dodge the convention and that his opinion has nothing to do with Mr. Obama’s job approval numbers.

“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their district,” Mr. Israel said Tuesday at the Reuters Washington summit.

The North Carolina Democratic Party is hoping it has put behind the sex scandal that roiled its ranks this year. State Democratic Party Chairman David Parker submitted his resignation but kept his job amid complaints about his handling of sexual harassment accusations against former party director Jay Parmley.

A young male staffer said Mr. Parmley harassed him by showing him a picture of male genitals, caressing his leg and talking about his sexual exploits.

Mr. Parmley has since resigned, but the staffer, Adriadn Ortega, who was fired from the North Carolina Democratic Party in November, is now claiming in a lawsuit that he was dismissed because he complained about the harassment. National Democratic Party officials have expressed concern that the episode is hurting fundraising in the state.

Since Mr. Obama won the state four years ago, Republicans also have bounced back electorally.

The GOP took control of the legislature for the first time in a century, Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, chose not to run for a second term, and voters this spring approved an amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the same week that Mr. Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage.