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Jim Rogers, left, CEO of Duke Energy, and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx celebrate while making an official announcement regarding the city of Charlotte being named the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Tuesday, February 1, 2011, at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce in Charlotte, North Carolina.

David T. Foster Iii, Mct - Mct

Dems to go south for 2012 confab

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ and RICHARD MERYHEW
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • February 2, 2011 - 12:35 AM

Minneapolis learned Tuesday that it has lost out to Charlotte, N.C., as the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention -- a decision widely viewed as a sign that President Obama will take his stand in Dixie.

Picking a state that Obama carried by just 14,000 votes in 2008, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) passed over Minnesota, which has gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1972 -- including 2008, when the Republicans met in St. Paul.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who learned of the decision in a private phone call from DNC chairman and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, admitted to being "disappointed" by the news. "He made the case about the politics of it going to North Carolina, and to the South," Rybak said. "I understand the politics. I also believe we demonstrated that we'd be an exceptional host."

Rybak said he believes the DNC made its decision within the past few days or week -- after Obama reorganized his political team in preparation for a reelection bid. Rybak said no one told him where Minneapolis ranked among the four finalists, but he said he believes "we were very close at the end."

The other runners-up for the Democrats were St. Louis and Cleveland, also both in battleground states.

The GOP will hold its convention in Tampa, Fla., putting the South in the forefront of the 2012 presidential election.

The news was made public in an e-mail to Democratic supporters from First Lady Michelle Obama. "Charlotte is a city marked by its southern charm, warm hospitality, and an 'up by the bootstraps' mentality," she wrote. "Vibrant, diverse, and full of opportunity, the Queen City is home to innovative, hardworking folks with big hearts and open minds. And of course, great barbecue."

Campaign beachhead

But analysts say more than Southern charm and barbecue were in play. Charlotte represents a Democratic beachhead in the New South, which has otherwise trended Republican in recent elections. Better known for NASCAR and Jesse Helms, North Carolina went to Obama by less than 1 percent of the vote, the first time the state had gone Democratic since Jimmy Carter ran in 1976.

Party officials said privately that Obama plans to work "aggressively" to consolidate his gains in North Carolina, along with other "red" states such as Indiana and Virginia, where they say he remains competitive in polling data. "They're looking at battleground states," said American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein, a Minnesota native. "Minnesota may very well be once again a battleground and purple state,'' Ornstein added, "but if you're looking at it from the perspective of Obama, you're not expecting Minnesota to be as much in play."

Minneapolis, seeking the global exposure and $160 million in spending a convention can bring, touted the hotels, pubs and cafes that would make an estimated 50,000 delegates, visitors, politicians and journalists feel at home.

Rybak said he talked frequently with Kaine in recent weeks. He also said city officials had been in negotiations with the DNC on drafting a sample contract should Minneapolis be selected.

"I don't know how far they got with other cities, but I know we were very far down the line," Rybak said. "I don't mean to imply that I thought we had it, but we were definitely a very serious contender."

Melvin Tennant, CEO and president of Meet Minneapolis, the civic group that submitted the city's bid, said he and other boosters were "gathering intelligence" to determine the factors behind the decision.

"Clearly, Democrats must have seen an opportunity to solidify the South," Tennant said. "It's going to be a tough election in 2012 and I know a lot of Democratic strategists must have weighed in [on] the best chance of victory for 2012."

Dome collapse?

While there has been much insider speculation about the recent collapse of the Metrodome roof and the Twin Cities' status as host to the 2008 GOP convention, party officials in Washington and Minneapolis said the events did not factor into the DNC decision.

If anything, one official said, the Twin Cities' ability to cope with days of chaotic protests at the GOP convention in St. Paul was seen as a selling point for 2012, when the Democrats' gathering could easily become the focal point of Tea Party and anarchist demonstrations.

Frank Benenati, a party official who accompanied Kaine on a site visit to Minneapolis in August, said it was a close call. "With all the factors on the table," he said, "Charlotte came out a little bit ahead."

DFLer Keith Ellison, who represents the Minneapolis area in Congress, said he understands the party's need to go into a red state, but hopes leaders don't overlook Minnesota's importance. "Charlotte's a good place, so congratulations to them," Ellison said. "But I wish it had been here. ... You've got the entire Midwest."

kdiaz@startribune.com • 202-408-2753 richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425

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