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Obama banks on all-star surrogates
Incumbent utilizes celebrity campaigners in N.C.
Published Thursday, August 30, 2012 8:23 am
by Cheris F. Hodges, for The Charlotte Post


President Barack Obama has made one thing clear: North Carolina is key to his reelection.

Actress Octavia Spencer (center) greets patrons at Heads Up Beauty and Barber last month as part of the Obama campaign’s use of surrogates in North Carolina.

That’s why Charlotte’s hosting the Democratic National Convention and the president has been sending representatives to the state – and the Queen City — to lobby for votes in November. From celebrities like actress Ashley Judd to First Lady Michelle Obama, North Carolina has been heavily courted.

Charlotte resident Keisha Rogers said she’s going to vote and didn’t need any celebrity to tell her to do so. But she admits she isn’t as excited about this election as she was in 2008.

“Maybe it’s because the DNC is coming to Charlotte and it’s so hyped up that it has dampened my excitement,” Rogers said. “I’m really ready for all of it to be over with.”

It’s clear the Tar Heel State is in play. Yahoo! News reported North Carolina is one of six states that has seen a growing number of independent voters who made a mass exodus from the Democratic Party since the 2008 election. According to the report, the total number of independents from all six states grew by roughly 443,000 from four years ago.

The Obama campaign has 47 offices across the state to win votes for the president. And the celebrities have been around Charlotte trying to get out the vote. Octavia Spencer, co-star of “The Help,” spent an afternoon at Heads Up Barbershop in north Charlotte registering voters and spreading Obama’s message.

Actress Alfre Woodard joined politicians at Johnson C. Smith University in May to rally young voters and to get participation in the school’s UFuture – A Summit for Innovative Young Thinkers event, which will coincide with the DNC.

The celebrities are talking, but are the voters listening? North Carolina may have been fired up in 2008, but in the last few elections, voter turnout has been low.

In the 2011 general election, Mecklenburg County had fewer than 17 percent voter turnout. State wide, the number was nearly the same, 16.37 percent. These numbers represent a double-digit drop from the 2010 election, which stacked the N.C. House of Representatives with Republicans and gave control of the General Assembly to the GOP.  Statewide in 2010, there was nearly 44 percent voter turnout and in Mecklenburg County, was over 37 percent.

On the other side, Joe Russell isn’t interested in voting at all in November – a new problem that Obama’s camp is trying to overcome.

“The government is going to do what they want to do anyway,” he said. “So, no. I’m not voting.”

Voter apathy, coupled with the slow moving economy, was a problem Obama addressed in 2010. He told Rolling Stone magazine in November 2010: “People need to shake off this lethargy. People need to buck up.”

Davidson College professor of political science Susan Roberts said North Carolina may not be a swing state, but it’s definitely a battleground state.

“This time around, [Obama] is making a concerted effort to mobilize and get feet on the ground and registering voters,” Roberts said.
Another important fact, she points out, is that North Carolina has changed.

“The North Carolina of today isn’t pork rinds and pig pickings and Jesse Helms,” she said. “North Carolina has had a modest increase in independent voters and that’s something that the campaign is looking at as well.  If [Obama] wins in North Carolina then you will see how he’s doing in the rest of the country.”



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