North Carolina Is a Complicated Place for The Democratic Party

A broken state party, a bad economy and tight congressional races make for a messy convention backdrop.

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In North Carolina, where the Democratic Party will hold its national convention next week, politics aren't on the side of the Democrats like they were four years ago.

Holding the convention in the state is a strategic choice for Democrats, who are hoping to win over swing voters in the "purple" state, which President Barack Obama won in 2008. But the state's politics are a messy backdrop for the party's message of economic progress and inclusion.

Both chambers of the North Carolina state legislature, for the first time since reconstruction, are held by Republicans. The gubernatorial race looks to be on the side of the GOP. And the state voted earlier this year for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Experts say the state's own Democratic party is in shambles.

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The states' party chairman is David Parker, who will lead delegates at the convention after many say he mismanaged a sexual harassment scandal earlier this summer involving the party's former executive director, Jay Parmley, who was accused of harassing a male employee.

Parker initially resigned, but the executive committee has since reinstated him, complicating campaigns for Democrats running in both local and congressional races. The state's Democratic party was outraised nearly 7-to-1 in June.

The scandal has paralyzed the state party from being an effective partner for the national party. Both the Obama for America team and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have taken state fundraising into their own hands.

"The national party and the democratic party have done a fantastic job of circumventing the dysfunctional leadership in the state," says North Carolina-based Democratic strategist Brad Crone. "Obama for America and the DCCC have set up a system so the state party doesn't get its fingertips on the direct cash flow."

And not all the Democrats in North Carolina are going to be living it up in Charlotte.

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Democrats running in especially competitive districts won't be spending their week with the president. Instead, a few of them will be distancing themselves from Obama, dedicating their time to campaigning in their Republican-leaning districts.

"Local candidates, particularly incumbents, want voters to evaluate them in terms of how they might represent that particular constituency," says Tom Carsey, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina. "If a presidential candidate is not strongly popular in a local district, then the local candidates will move away from them."

Rep. Larry Kissell and congressional candidate Hayden Rogers both have said they don't plan on attending the convention in their own state.

"We understand if you are in a tight race, you have to be scrapping for every single vote," says Walton Robinson, a North Carolina Democratic Party spokesman.

But the state's Republican party says candidates refusal to go to their own convention is disingenuous.

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Rep. Mike McIntyre's campaign told U.S. News Friday that McIntyre is attending a few events at the convention after rumors swirled that he also would be busy on the campaign trail.

"The convention is a big deal economically for North Carolina, and he is excited it is going to create a lot of opportunities for North Carolina's economy," says Lachlan McIntosh, McIntyre's campaign manager.

The state's teetering economy is another obstacle for Democrats to overcome at the convention.

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With the state's textile and furniture industries nearly eviscerated, North Carolina boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 9.6 percent.

"This state is hurting and we are still retooling from the changeover from a manufacturing to a service economy," Crone says. "North Carolinians need to hear from the president what his plans are for addressing the economy here. They are fiscally conservative, but they are realists, too."