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Carolina Blues: Democrats Can Lose It All In The Tarheel State

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In the 2004 general election, George W. Bush carried North Carolina, garnering all of the red state's electoral votes. But he didn't win without a fight. Not by a long shot. There was a significant region of Carolina Blue: John Kerry, with 52 percent of the vote, won the densely populated Charlotte metro area.

Sprawling over most of Mecklenburg County, home to Bank of America, Wachovia and much of NASCAR's motorsports industry, Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina. With an estimated 2,491,650 Tarheels living in the metropolitan area, the Queen City is the 17th largest city in the nation. Charlotteans are independent as hell. Plenty of them are even true blue liberals.

Post-Pennsylvania primary, North Carolinians will have their say about which Democrat will face John McCain in the real race for the White House. The one that ends with "Hail to the Chief." Prevailing wisdom and pollsters tell us Barack Obama is in the lead here. He's expected to win the majority of North Carolina's Democratic delegates.

Not all the news, however, bodes well for the Democratic Party. Or for Obama.

John F. is an executive assistant with one of Charlotte's busiest hotels. He's a liberal, born and raised in the Carolinas. He works with a staff of about fifty women, many of them in sales and catering or administrative positions. They are all, he says, liberals. Every one of them. They are working single women, working wives and mothers. They're an ethnically diverse group of women, all of whom have attended college. Most of them are college graduates.

"As far as I know," he says, "these women are among those Charlotteans who voted Kerry in 2004. They've been Clinton supporters--100 percent behind her. She's a woman. She's a smart woman. She had 'the experience' to do the job."

There seemed to be a kind of stick-to-it solidarity. But something changed. "Things turned," John says. The desperate, angry tone of the Clinton campaign didn't sit well. Rather than positive talk of Hillary's experience, there was murmuring about "What experience?" There was restlessness in the Southern ranks.

Then candidate Clinton "misspoke" about snipers in Tuzla, was exposed for telling a whopper and these North Carolina women turned off altogether. "She lied," John said, "and when it was clear she had lied to them, Clinton support was gone. Gone. They said they couldn't trust her. That hasn't changed. They won't go back."

They turned to Obama. "I think they really did for a while get very excited--inspired by what Obama had to say," John continued. "But the Jeremiah Wright uproar followed so closely on the Tuzla disaster. Now they don't particularly like Obama, either."

"Were they that deeply offended by the things Reverend Wright said?" I asked John. "Do they really believe he's some kind of militant black separatist and that Senator Obama is guilty by association?"

John says that's not the case. These women had believed, wholeheartedly, in Hillary Rodham Clinton and she lied to them. They felt betrayed. Jeremiah Wright's words were not what soured them on Barack Obama. They felt, John said, that Obama had not been completely honest when he claimed he'd never heard, in nearly twenty years of Sundays spent at Trinity Church of Christ, that kind of hateful message from the pulpit. After their disappointment in Hillary, it was all too easy to mistrust--and abandon--Obama.

Once burned, twice shy. It seems Hillary Clinton may have poisoned the veracity well. Fifty Democratic Charlotte women are now saying "We can't trust either one of them."

I asked John about the possibility of racism. "No way," he answered. "Race has never been, and is not now, an issue with them. It's trust." Had he ever heard them refer to Obama as a Muslim? The answer to that was a definite no, as well. They believe the senator from Illinois is a Christian. The "BitterGate" misstep? It, too, is a non-issue.

"So," I asked, "what are they going to do now?"

"Believe it or not," John answered, "some may not vote at all. Primary season has really turned them off. Others are saying McCain is looking better and better. They don't like his stance on the war or the economy--or on much else. But they feel that he, at least, hasn't lied to them. There's been no bad press about him, no sound-bites about lies."

I had one final question: "Then what about the media's responsibility in all this?"

John laughed. "Hasn't it occurred to you that the whole election process is media-led? They put it out there--the sound-bite campaign--and the voters just follow along. Who do you think picks a new president?"

What could go wrong in North Carolina? Bush is unpopular. So is the war. The economy is bad. McCain represents more of the same policies that got us here and few deny it. Carolina Blue should be the color du jour. But Democratic primary season, like Ben Franklin's "fish and visitors", has overstayed its welcome and begins to smell rank. Stir in a little irresponsible, sensationalized media coverage (on the Dem side), a heaping handful of media neglect (on the GOP/McCain side) and you'll find Tarheels seeing red. Sadly, you may be apt to find a surprising number of true blue North Carolina liberals among them.