CHARLOTTE, N.C. — So it’s come to this. As the Democratic National Committee and Obama for America “Gotta Vote” bus tour made its way through North Carolina on Tuesday, the game of “Mittnopoly” made its debut (“not a game for the 47 percent”). You can probably guess the stops on the board: a Bain shutdown for the unlucky, a luxury tax break if you land well. With blind trusts or an inheritance to cushion any blow, the fix is in no matter the roll of the dice.
The gimmicky game, the bus (with its “forward, not back” slogan) and the speeches all point to the Oct. 18 through Nov. 3 early voting period in the state. While other states have been battling proposed voting limits, in North Carolina you can register to vote and cast a ballot at an early voting location. Getting out the vote is no game for Democrats or Republicans here.
As DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz reminded a group of volunteers outside a downtown campaign when she got off the bus, the party isn’t conceding the South, particularly North Carolina, which President Obama carried by 14,000 votes in 2008, or Charlotte, which the Florida congresswoman complimented yet again for putting on a successful Democratic convention.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would “say or do anything to get elected,” she said. “Profits come before people and Romney economics rule the day” in any game the GOP is playing. When asked if the president would return to North Carolina to campaign, she said, “I’m confident that he will be back”; she was scheduled to return on Wednesday to kick off a Charlotte phone bank while Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett made a Greensboro stop with the bus.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Tuesday, first lady Michelle Obama pushed the same message and toured the Early Vote Express RV, which will roam the state when the big bus moves on. North Carolina roads will be mighty crowded.
Patrick Diamond, a nonprofit consultant, said he and his wife are going to gas up both their cars on Election Day to get seniors to the polls. “As we think about what Obama inherited four years ago, he’s done an extraordinary job,” he said. He compared the president’s record to what he called “Romney’s flip-flops.” During the North Carolina campaign, Diamond has had several chances to see his Boston University classmate, actress/activist Alfre Woodard, who has been here so often for Obama, she may qualify for residency.
After Wasserman Schultz headed to the airport for a New York flight to the presidential debate, other speakers who picked up the theme included Charlotte firefighter Tom Brewer, who said Romney’s policies don’t support first responders. Wasserman Schultz’s Democratic congressional colleague, North Carolina’s Mel Watt, touted the campaign’s ground game. “That’s where we won the election four years ago in North Carolina,” he told me, “and that’s where I think we’ll win the election this year.”
The bus moved on to West Charlotte, where the mostly female group of volunteers in the predominantly African-American neighborhood turned the campaign field office into a church service, interjecting “Amen” into remarks from former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt and current Mayor Anthony Foxx.
Alyene Keen, 75, the retired owner of a coffee business and the mother of four, wore an “Obama Mama” button and praised the president’s “vision for all people.” She is organizing phone banking and canvassing in her home seven days a week as the election nears.
“I think we’re going to win Ohio and North Carolina,” Gantt told me. “The demographics of this state are changing and people haven’t paid much attention to that.” He said that getting people to the polls and early voting “are things that are getting cultural in the black community.” Of Romney, he said, “I don’t think Americans want to elect a president that we really didn’t know what his core beliefs are.” Though Gantt admitted he was not a fan of President Ronald Reagan, “we all knew where Ronald Reagan stood. We did understand George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. They took positions and they stayed there.” Gantt added, “We know where the president stands. He’s made it very clear.”
Former Obama personal aide Reggie Love returned to his hometown of Charlotte for the day from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to speak with the crowd in West Charlotte. “As goes North Carolina, goes the rest of the country,” he told me. The former Duke basketball player said he still keeps in frequent touch with the president. They play “every now and then,” Love said of their tough basketball face offs. “We’ll probably play on Election Day. I think it’s a tradition.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3