CHARLOTTE, NC — “You won’t find many Republicans here,” laughed Phil Rutledge, a resident of North Carolina’s “Queen City.”
Rutledge was one of thousands who poured out onto the streets for the “Carolinafest,” a one-day extravaganza of concerts, art exhibits and good down- home cookin’ devoted to making delegates and visitors to the Democratic National Convention feel welcome.
Jeff Bridges (below) played country music, and singer James Taylor, himself a North Carolinian, delivered old favorites like “You got a friend.”
Even the periodic torrential downpours could not dampen the overall mood, although after the second round of Mother Nature’s pranks, organizers called a halt.
President Barack Obama, although he has not yet reached North Carolina, was the undisputed star of the show.
Almost no one was without some Democratic insignia, from T-shirts saying “Obama y’all” to buttons proclaiming “Vote Pro-Choice: Politicians make crappy doctors.”
One convention volunteer, Jann Williams of Henderson, Nev., was bedecked with so much paraphernalia that she could barely stand. Seated on a bench in the middle of the cheerful chaos, she had no doubts about the outcome of the election in her state.
“We’re keeping Nevada blue,” said Williams, a retired accountant and an African American. She wore a “Once you vote black you never go back” button prominently displayed on her chest.
But Williams had many more arguments than race to explain her support for the president.
“It is important that Obama be given the chance to finish what he started,” she says, wiping sweat out of her eyes in the muggy afternoon. “He is for the common person, and I am worried what would happen if Romney gets in. He’ll just cut taxes for the rich and do nothing for us.”
Race has played an important, and very negative, role in Obama’s presidency, says Williams.
“Things got very ugly once Obama got into power,” she says. “All these hidden prejudices came out. It’s all just racism.”
Blacks themselves, she insists, are guilty of playing the race card.
“You think blacks can’t be prejudiced? Just look at Clarence Thomas,” she snorted, referring to the Supreme Court justice, who, she feels, is playing to his white backers.
Williams is a fan of the Affordable Health Care Act, which she carefully refrains from calling “Obamacare.”
“We had a son with a pre-existing condition,” she says. “Thanks to the ACA, we were able to get him a policy that covers lab tests, medication, everything, for just $240 a month.”
The Republicans, she insists, are all talk.
“So in the last House and Senate races, they all promised ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’” she sniffs. “Then when they got in they spent all their time trying to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Where are the jobs? I ask younger women, ‘Do you realize what they are trying to do to you?’”
Williams is not alone in her concerns about women’s issues. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is everywhere in Charlotte, handing out pink T-shirts and collecting signatures for various petitions.
“Women’s health should not be a political issue,” says Justine Sessions, spokeswoman for the group, which is the political action arm of Planned Parenthood. “But the Romney-Ryan ticket is promoting dangerous policies. They are out of touch.”
She says the Republican platform, which advocates a total ban on abortion, defunding Planned Parenthood and allowing employers affiliated with religious institutions to exempt birth control from health insurance policies, is “appalling.”
More Highway 2012: GOP platform heard loud and clear in Tampa
The group sponsored a poll in August among women in battleground states. The findings indicate that women may be less likely to vote for the Republican ticket because of Romney and Ryan’s views on abortion, birth control and other issues.
“It comes as no surprise that the more women learn about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s record and positions on women’s health, the more appalled they are. Politics has no place in a woman’s personal medical decisions. Women voters believe that, and in November their votes will reflect it,” says Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Obama enjoys a significant advantage in polls among women voters, although Romney has been trying hard to catch up. Last week in Tampa, Ann Romney, Mitt’s wife, made an impassioned plea on behalf of the former Massachusetts governor. Female politicians such as Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, Mia Love, a congressional candidate from Utah, and Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, were on hand to try and bolster the Republicans’ image.
The Democrats are preparing their counterattack, with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, and others lined up to speak.
First lady Michelle Obama will deliver her remarks Tuesday evening, and Jann Williams is looking forward to it. She is a firm believer in women’s power, and hopes to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the White house one day soon.
“Michelle Obama is an inspirational speaker and a great woman,” says Williams. “Obama’s gonna be there for four more years and then we’re gonna have Hillary for eight!”