Obama’s Tar Heel headache

Ben Margot/AP Jase Peeples watches as President Obama announcing his support of same-sex marriage via television at The Mix bar in San Francisco. For years gay-marriage and abortion have been lumped together as the paramount wedge issues of U.S. politics. Yet these two divisive issues, prominent as ever this election season and still firing up the liberal and conservative bases of the two major parties, are evolving in intriguingly different ways.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Once a bright spot for President Barack Obama, North Carolina is now more like a political migraine less than four months before Democrats open the party’s national convention in Charlotte.

The causes are plenty. Labor unions, a core Democratic constituency, are up in arms. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue isn’t running for re-election; Democrats say she was likely to lose. The state Democratic Party is in disarray over an explosive sexual harassment scandal. Voters recently approved amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage, a position that runs counter to Obama’s. And unemployment in the state remains persistently high.

“Nobody can sugarcoat the fact that we got problems here,” said Gary Pearce, a former Democratic consultant who was an adviser to former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt. Pearce was referring specifically to state party woes but could have been talking about any of the troubles here for Democrats.

But, he added: “I think the greatest strength that the party has is President Obama. And he’s the thing that people will rally around.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this — at least that was the hope — when Democrats chose Charlotte to host the national convention, where Obama will formally accept his party’s presidential nomination for a second time, Sept. 4-6.

When Democrats announced the choice in February 2011, they said selecting the Southern city signaled Obama’s intent to fight hard for the conservative-leaning state like he did in 2008. They also highlighted the economic transformation in the state and in Charlotte — from tobacco, textiles and furniture-making to research, energy and banking. Party leaders noted the state’s strong political leadership and expressed hope that a Perdue re-election bid would get a boost from the attention that would be on the convention.

Now traditional Democratic Party groups are threatening huge protests in part because they’re deeply uncomfortable that the convention is being held in one of the least union-friendly states. And thousands of Democrats across the country are calling for the convention to be relocated because of the gay-marriage vote.

Democrats say that won’t happen. “Charlotte is going to host a great convention,” insisted Mayor Anthony Foxx, who pushed to bring the event to North Carolina’s largest city.

Said Democratic National Convention in Charlotte spokeswoman Joanne Peters: “The convention is staying in Charlotte.”

Republicans point out the obvious.

“North Carolina is a mess for the Democratic Party and for President Obama,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Matt Connelly.

Four years ago, Obama became the first Democrat to carry North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976. He did it by exploiting voter anger at President George W. Bush and assembling a diverse coalition of supporters.