HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – With a Carolina cap on his head and an “Obama 2012” button on his shirt, James Taylor offered a mini-concert to a roomful of committed campaign volunteers on Thursday, thanking them for their get-out-the-vote efforts and urging them on. “I just believe in my heart that this is what will make the difference in this election,” the North Carolina-raised singer-songwriter said, before introducing the familiar chords of his signature “Carolina in My Mind”: “I play it every time I play anywhere, but particularly in North Carolina.”
It was the appropriate tune in this battleground state that carries 15 electoral votes and the hopes of Democrats and Republicans. President Obama won by just 14,000 votes in 2008, and polls show a 2012 race that’s just as tight. As both parties bombard the state with ads and visits from campaign surrogates, it comes down to turnout, especially with an Oct. 18 start to early voting. In 2008, Obama built up a lead that John McCain couldn’t overcome on Election Day.
An invitation for the Taylor event at this Obama for America field office just north of Charlotte – one of 54 in the state – went to 100 of the committed core group organizing phone banks, canvassing and doing anything else that needs doing, according to the Obama campaign.
“I thought I was going to cry,” Penny Marshall said after Taylor finished four songs and a message of support for the president. “He’s a true believer from way back,” said the fan since the days of “Fire and Rain.” Marshall, 56, a lawyer from Newark, Del., had traveled to North Carolina for a few days to campaign. She heard Obama speak at Temple University before he became president, and has been following him since then. “He’s made strides in health care, done well in foreign affairs – and he picked Joe Biden.” She said her 19-year-old stepson, a student at Delaware State, is getting out the vote there.
Taylor’s N.C. volunteer appreciation tour, with his wife, Caroline, who harmonized, had taken them to Wilmington, Chapel Hill and Greensboro, with planned stops in Asheville and the western part of the state. (In Wilmington, their room had a view of a river, the Cape Fear, which, she said, “should be the name of the Romney campaign.”)
Though born in Boston, Taylor grew up in the area around Chapel Hill, where his father, Isaac, became dean of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “He was a great believer in the future of North Carolina in those days in the ’50s and ’60s,” Taylor said. “These were people who believed in a progressive North Carolina, one which they fought for and which has borne fruit. … I only wish that my dad had lived long enough to see Barack Obama elected. I know how deeply that he would have been gratified by that.”
The dependable Obama supporter sang at the president’s inauguration and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in September; he has serenaded donors at fundraisers, including Charlotte appearances with first lady Michelle Obama earlier this year.
“The Republicans can perhaps out raise us with anonymous funds because of the mistake that was Citizens United. … We have so many more human beings people who believe in the message,” he said on Thursday to the volunteers who held up phones to take pictures and record every word. “This is our strategy; this is what works.”
He encouraged everyone to sing along to Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and sang “America the Beautiful” to lift spirits in the room. Bruce Williams needed it. He had thrown a watch party at a sports bar for the first presidential debate between the president and his GOP opponent Mitt Romney, and thought “Obama should have stood up for himself and his administration,” he said. But he was still confident. “His policies are so much better than the alternative,” said Williams, 50, a Huntersville IT program manager. While Sen. John Kerry was criticized as a flip-flopper on issues, “Mitt Romney is the biggest flip-flopper around,” he said. “Which Mitt will you get?”
Ed Clausen, 44, of Huntersville, has been an Obama volunteer since 2008. The Army veteran, who is skeptical of Romney’s tough talk on Iran, said he is looking forward to the candidates’ debate on foreign policy. “Fighting another war, he said, “would create more disabled veterans they don’t want to take care of.” On Thursday, Clausen – who came with his mother, Linda Clausen, who recently signed on to the campaign — was content to take a break and listen to James Taylor. With just weeks to go, he said, “we need to keep the energy up.”
“This is too important an election for you to just sit on your hands and hope for the best,” said Taylor in his pep talk. He sounded committed enough to try to win North Carolina for President Barack Obama, one tune at a time.