Multiple stumbles on the Democrats's road to Charlotte, N.C. convention

Organizers of the Democratic National Convention have faced a series of setbacks in what was supposed to be a seamless celebration of President Obama’s renomination.

Officials are dealing with financial problems thanks to a ban on corporate donations, and several Democrats in tough races have decided to skip the September gathering in Charlotte, N.C., altogether. Plus, some unions are unhappy the convention is being held in a “right to work” state, and the host committee recently had to cancel an event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway designed to launch the gathering.

Two years ago the decision to hold the convention in North Carolina, which Obama was the first Democrat to win since Jimmy Carter, was seen as smart politics, but recent headlines have focused on the party’s struggles.

A number of Democrats from Republican-leaning states aren’t planning on attending the convention, including Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), North Dakota Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp and Reps. Mark Critz (Pa.), Kathy Hochul (N.Y.), Bill Owens (N.Y.) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.).

Democrats had already shortened their convention from its usual four days to three. Monday’s official events, which were to take place on Labor Day, were canceled in an effort to assuage unions already furious that the gathering was in a state whose laws make unionization difficult. 

In place of that, the nonpartisan host committee representing Charlotte had planned a major event at the speedway — but earlier this week announced it would have to move it to the downtown area.

A spokeswoman for that committee denied monetary struggles played a major part in the move or that the new venue was picked because it hosts fewer people.

“The reason this is coming down at what seems like short notice is as the details fell into place it was revealed all the delegate caucus meetings needed to happen downtown because of logistics — there was no way to get them out to the speedway,” the spokeswoman said. “The logistics of the speedway being about 20 miles outside town just made it too challenging.”

There have been several reports that Obama’s ban on lobbyist money and corporate donations — along with unions’ resistance to helping fund a convention in the state — have left the committee responsible for paying for the convention struggling to raise enough money. The committee still had to raise $27 million of the $36 million required for the convention, Bloomberg News reported.

The spokeswoman flatly denied that number was accurate but refused to disclose how much the committee had raised. When asked if it would hit its goal, she tersely replied, “We will, because we have to,” before saying she was “fully confident” it would happen.

Democrats familiar with the convention acknowledged union tensions but said they were working closely to alleviate concerns. The Monday event will include an “honor to labor,” according to a source, although details are still being nailed down. The head of the state’s AFL-CIO is on the committee planning it.

Republicans are facing their own problems.

Some GOP candidates and lawmakers are also skipping their convention: Rep. Denny Rehberg (Mont.), who has sought to put distance between himself and his party, won’t be there, nor will former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, who is running for the Senate in the Democrat-heavy state. But other vulnerable Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Rep. Robert Dold (Ill.), plan to attend.

And, while Democrats have struggled because of a limit on corporate and lobbyist donations, Republicans are susceptible to attacks because they did not ban that money. 

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is pushing for a speaking slot at the convention despite his unpopularity in the state, and has recently shown an unwillingness to play ball with the Mitt Romney campaign. 

In addition, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) still refuses to back Romney and has enough delegates to create havoc at the Tampa gathering. 

Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton said they are “stressing decorum and constructiveness” to their supporters, but noted they promise to fight hard for their views to be included in the party’s platform. And that risks a confrontation with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and his supporters, who have promised to battle Paul’s forces.

“Santorum took a swipe recently at our supporters, who want to make sure the pro-liberty platform is considered at the convention,” Benton told The Hill. “We want to make sure to stand up to the statist big-government side of the Republican Party.”

A loophole in Republican National Convention rules means Paul backers could nominate him for vice president at the convention, forcing a lengthy vote and throwing the orderly process into chaos. When asked if the campaign would rule that out because of decorum, Benton demurred.

“We have to keep our cards pretty close to our vest on this thing,” he said.

Benton said the “jury’s still out” on whether Paul will endorse the presumptive GOP nominee.

“A good bit of that will be determined by how his supporters will be received and treated. Right now there’s every indication they will be well-received and treated well at the convention and if they feel welcome that will help.”