Why is the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte? It certainly was a city that put on a good show (unless you count thunderstorms over a stadium).
But the Obama campaign had another reason: Keep North Carolina in the Obama column. And the way that could happen is recreate a broad coalition of voting Democrats, one that includes people of color.
Republicans see North Carolina as an ideal pickup state. The results from four years ago were incredibly close at 49.8 percent for Obama to 49.4 percent for McCain. Polls show the race to be that tight again.
American Indians are a small percentage of the state’s population, at less than one percent. But it’s also a fast-growing population going from 131,736 a decade ago to 184,082 at the last census. But the growth in voters is slower. The Institute for Southern Studies shows about 43,000 American Indian voters in 2008 and that number will be nearly 50,000 in 2012.
But even a small American Indian vote could help decide which direction the state goes, especially as part of a larger coalition. African Americans make up 22 percent of that state’s population. That population is overwhelmingly for Obama (in one recent poll Romney got zero percent of the black vote). What’s more, the fastest growing category of voters in North Carolina, according to the National Journal, is “other.” This category includes Asian-Americans, Hispanics and multi-racial voters that account for some 5 percent of the electorate. Hispanic voters doubled from 44,000-plus to more than 90,000 voters.
All told people of color represent 30 percent of the state’s electorate.
Is that total enough to make a difference in the outcome? Four years ago Obama won the state with less than a 15,000-vote margin.
There’s one other factor to consider in North Carolina: Who’s voting?
On one hand, the state has early voting, same-day voter registration, and does not require a photo ID (the state’s Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed a stringent ID law). Whichever party has the best get-out-the-vote effort will win this state. In the state’s primary election more than 500,000 people took advantage of early voting. One interesting twist: Older voters, 65 years and up, outnumbered those 25 and younger by a 5 to 1 margin. That large gap meant the early voting outcomes tilted toward the GOP.
But any get-out-the-vote effort is complicated by the excitement factor. Four years ago there was a lot of energy built around the idea of Native Nations “uniting for change.” That enthusiasm dynamic is simply less when a president is running for re-election and the economy is stuck in the mud.
And that’s where a second convention goal comes into play. The candidate and delegate shows are designed to get people excited. They need voters to go at the polls – and their neighbors, too.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.