CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The setting was an inviting room in a spacious suburban home — not a movie theater — so maybe the audience felt a little more comfortable talking back.
“That would make a good bumper sticker,” someone said when Mitt Romney’s op-ed headline “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” flashed on the screen set up for the occasion. Everyone laughed. At the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, amending the statute of limitations for an equal-pay lawsuit, one woman said, “I had forgotten about that.” When President Obama, recalling the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, broke the tension with “everybody was accounted for, including the dog,” everyone exhaled and smiled.
It was a small viewing party for “The Road We’ve Traveled,” the 17-minute review of Obama’s first term, with heroes, villains and the comforting narration of Hollywood everyman, Tom Hanks. The dozen people there, a diverse group, knew the hosts or signed up on an Organizing for America North Carolina e-mail. By the end of the evening, all were friends, huddling in groups to plan a night of phone calls to Obama supporters and a day of registering voters March 31.
This was not exactly a tough crowd. (Certainly the “A Load of You-Know-What” assessment of a Republican e-mail would be rejected by all.) But while reviews of the film were understandably good — a dramatic checklist the Obama campaign would like to trumpet — the mood was anxious, as well.
“I thought the movie was good, a little late. It should have been out a year ago,” said Austin Roper. The retired banker wants the message distributed in different media “so that all age groups will get access to that information.”
If Republican candidates have framed 2012 as a do-or-die moment, a battle for the “soul of America,” in Romney’s words, President Obama’s supporters see the situation in equally stark terms and wonder whether their side is prepared for the fight ahead. They signed up and signed on, while conjuring a vision that scared them.
“If Republicans get into power, we are all in trouble,” said Roper, 72, a registered independent. “They will dismantle equality of health care, voting rights, the controls various agencies have over industry, and especially the environment.”
His wife, Louise Roper, said of Obama: “He’s a smart young man. He’s good for the economy.” She said he’s made the country “sit up and take notice about the inequities of the system we live under.” The retired banker, who now buys and sells collectibles at a flea market booth, recalled a medical emergency a few years ago that she said would have put her family “out on the street” had she not had Medicare and private insurance. “How heartless do you have to be not to want all the people to have health insurance?” Of the Republicans running, “I have no words,” she said. “If people are listening to what the Republicans are trying to do, trying to do to women, trying to do to workers … ” she said. “Everybody has to take this personally.”
“What Obama’s done, the country’s starting to see a change,” said Sallie Mayfield, retired from the education field. “I don’t think we can continue in that direction if the Republicans get in.” Republicans “have thrown everything out the window – values, morals,” she said. “Their only message is ‘just beat Obama.’ ”
The evening’s hostess, Kathleen Gister, is politically active in her precinct and hopes to play a role in the Democratic convention in Charlotte. “I see his vision as something I believe in,” she said of Obama. “He thinks strategically. If we wind up losing everything’s he done … ” Each person here had a habit of trailing off when trying to put an Obama loss into words.
As Gister listed everything from the Affordable Care Act to getting the troops out of Iraq and the bailout of the auto industry (“Detroit has been a marvelous success”), she seemed to be girding herself for the pushback she anticipates will hit her as she works for her candidate. “It’s something that frightens me, that so many Americans will listen unquestioningly to that stuff.”
Her husband, Ron, a retired educator who was director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said he was “appalled” at the number of untrue things opponents use to attack the president. “It was a pleasure to see something that’s not negative.”
After the film, everyone lingered — reluctant, it seemed, to leave the like-minded and face what promises to be the tough task of again putting North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes into the Obama column.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR, Creative Loafing and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3.