WASHINGTON -- By choosing Charlotte over St. Louis as the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama and his political advisers are making a bet that the New South is more amenable to their "win the future" reelection message than the Old Midwest -- an ironic but probably shrewd electoral-college map for what will ostensibly be a Chicago-based campaign.
The thinking is simple enough if you look at maps and demographics. In 2008, Obama won Virginia and North Carolina by combining sky-high black turnout with the votes of middle-class and educated whites who are part of New South higher education, medical research, banking, finance, insurance, tourism and retirement communities.
One of the biggest employers in Charlotte is TARP-rescued Bank of America.
The Obama team dropped a hint not long ago. When the president wanted to preview his "Sputnik Moment" speech last December, he did so in North Carolina, praising the region's track record at Research Triangle Park and technical-training facilities. He stressed solar and biomedical research -- two of the industries he also mentioned in his State of the Union.
In strict geographical terms, the president and his team are also laying claim to Coastal America -- and in essence leaving much of Heartland America behind. In a world of global trade and technology and knowledge-based industry, it is primarily -- and understandably -- the coastal states that have responded first and most successfully to the challenges of the world.
The Obama-Biden ticket won every oceanside (Atlantic or Pacific) state in 2008 except South Carolina, Georgia and Alaska. (He of course lost most of the Gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.)
As for the Midwest, the president and his team are betting that the revival of the auto industry -- a sector he helped salvage -- will be vibrant in 2012 and he can win auto-dependent states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana without a special regional tribute.
But the interior Border States are trending Republican. West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri used to be competitive. They no longer really are. Missouri, in fact, was for a century perhaps the ultimate bellweather. It no longer is and will almost certainly end up in the GOP column. These are places with slower growth, less social and racial diversity. They also happen to be major coal-producing states -- and "Obama" is a dirty word in that industry for his advocacy of cap-and-trade legislation.
These states are rural -- places in which, as the president famously said, people cling to their guns and their religion. The president is leaving that territory to the GOP, which is probably wise.