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Republicans mixed on convention

Projected economic impact aside, the 2012 Democratic National Convention is, at the end of the day, a political event. And while the Democratic mayor of Charlotte and governor of North Carolina are rejoicing, some Republicans are, perhaps not surprisingly, more reserved.

“When you get ‘x’ number of people coming into the town going ‘rah, rah, rah’ and businesses are having DNC specials, restaurants have signs up saying, ‘Host your pre-convention happy hour here,’ things like that, it’s just going to be all Democrat, all the time,” said Matthew Ridenhour, founder of the Charlotte tea party.

Ridenhour said he received the news with mixed feelings. As a resident of Charlotte, he’s thrilled about the revenue expected to flow into the city as travelers spend money at uptown hotels and restaurants. But he’s not excited about the political impact, worried that the convention will energize Democratic voters in Charlotte and make it more difficult for Republican candidates in local races, particularly the 2012 Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners election.

Like Ridenhour, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory is mixed on Charlotte’s winning of the convention.

“It’s a compliment to Charlotte, especially in regard to being a city that can host such a large convention,” McCrory said. “Of course, it was three terms of a Republican mayor that helped build that city.”

Democrats, on the other hand, welcome the boost.

Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, said the convention will help raise awareness of Charlotte City Council elections in 2011 and 2013, which means voter turnout in those years will be higher.

“Historically, when there’s low turnout, it impacts Democrats more than Republicans,” Roberts said. “So that’s going to be a huge boost.”

Democratic City Councilman David Howard said that snagging the convention will reflect well on Mayor Anthony Foxx, who is up for re-election in 2011.

“For him to be able to pull this off in his first year and a half of his administration, I think it means the world for him,” Howard said. “What it means for the rest of us, I don’t know.”

David Parker, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said the decision to hold the convention in Charlotte is a sign that President Barack Obama is confident that he will win North Carolina voters in the 2012 elections the same way he did in 2008.

Parker added that anybody suggesting that the decision to hold the convention in Charlotte is an attempt to win Southern voters is wrong.

“The recent public policy polling suggests that if you put him (Obama) in a two-horse race against any Republican potential candidate, that he carries North Carolina,” Parker said, adding that that would have been the case whether the convention had been held in Charlotte or not.

The hosting of the convention in Charlotte might also drum up some pro-Democrat sentiment in the region and prove to be a boost for local elections in 2012, including the Mecklenburg commissioners race, Parker said. Charlotte Republican political consultant Larry Shaheen said the boost for Charlotte businesses might put the City Council races this year and in 2013 in Democrats’ favor, as well.

“City council is, by nature, supposed to be a business-promoting entity,” Shaheen said. “Whatever side promotes businesses gets the votes.”

Typically, business owners are a fairly safe base for Republicans, he said. But now, since the Democrats are responsible for bringing new patrons to Charlotte via the convention, there’s going to be incentive for them to vote for Democrats, he said.

At the same time, McCrory suggests the convention might actually backfire for local Democrats.

Typically, local Democratic politicians try to keep themselves separate from the Washington Democrats, McCrory said. Having the convention here could bridge that divide in a bad way, he said.

“With the convention here, it might expose the citizens of this area to the very liberal policies of the national Democratic Party,” he said. “The health care bill, the stimulus package: Those are issues that they’re going to have to defend right here during the convention.”

Roberts disagrees, saying that while the Democrats in Charlotte might typically be more fiscally conservative than Washington Democrats, there’s enough agreement on social issues.

“Charlotte has that interesting balance between people who want to use their money wisely and are very welcoming and open and accepting,” she said.

Despite the political implications for the region, most local politicians, including Foxx, stress that the biggest impact will be the economic one.

“It’s huge,” Foxx said. “It’s not only direct economic impact. It’s also the fact that it becomes a catalyst for driving essentially new businesses and new jobs to our community.”

Caitlin Coakley can be reached at [email protected].

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