Charlotte’s competitive edge
Charlotte commands a bright and wide-ranging spotlight as the Democratic National Convention starts there today. That wouldn’t have happened if North Carolina had not become “a battleground state” in presidential politics.
Republican tickets won the Tar Heel State in seven straight presidential elections from 1980-2004. But the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket broke that streak in 2008.
And while polls now show North Carolina slightly leaning to the GOP’s Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket, it remains one of only about a dozen states still seemingly up for grabs.
Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street protesters are taking to the streets of Charlotte this week — despite the president’s assurance last fall that he understands their “frustrations.” Their presence appears less aimed at the president or his party than at Charlotte itself, which the Occupiers condemn as “Wall Street South.”
Yet Charlotte isn’t just a modern banking mecca. It’s the biggest city in a state the Democrats have again targeted for its 15 electoral votes. The party picked Charlotte for the convention in the hopes that the honor might make the difference in another close race in North Carolina (Mr. Obama beat John McCain there four years ago by fewer than 14,000 out of more than 4.2 million votes).
Republicans had the same motive in picking Tampa for their convention. After all, Florida famously (or is that infamously?) decided the 2000 presidential election and remains a crucial toss-up state.
However, regardless of what you think of such election machinations, the Occupy protesters, the Democrats, the Republicans, the financial industry or Charlotte, the “Queen City” will enjoy a big-time boost in prominence this week.
And regardless of whether they lean left, right or toward the middle, a growing number of Americans fairly lament the long-term slide toward virtual one-party rule in many states.
Here in South Carolina, for instance, our six electoral votes went to the Republican presidential nominee in the last eight, and 11 of the last 12, elections. The margin has rarely been close. This year, thanks to congressional reapportionment and population rise, we get seven electoral votes (North Carolina’s stuck on 15) — and all of ours appear certain to go to the GOP ticket again.
No, this isn’t a plea to vote for President Obama’s re-election. It is a reminder, though, that vigorous two-party competition enhances politicians’ responsiveness to the voting public — and their willingness to forge bipartisan compromises — at all levels of government. Simply put, if you have no chance to win (or lose) a particular state, why bother to give it much attention?
The same demotivating principle applies in legislative districts heavily gerrymandered to favor one party or the other — an intensifying trend across the nation over the last few decades.
One-party dominance inevitably undermines accountability in elective office.
On a brighter note, the second national major-party convention ever held in the Carolinas seems bound to go much better than the first one did.
That ill-fated 1860 Democratic Convention, here in Charleston, broke up over the wrenching issue of slavery without nominating a presidential ticket. The Democrats’ schism virtually assured the election of the first Republican president (Abraham Lincoln) — and helped accelerate the United States down a tragic path to the Civil War, which started here, too.
So good luck to Charlotte as it deals with not just lots of Democrats and media members but lots of demonstrators.
And good luck to our nation in developing stronger two-party competition in every state.