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Democrats’ party platform will highlight issues controversial in N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Among the first orders of business for Democratic National Convention delegates: approving a party platform that’s expected to include support for same-sex marriage, abortion rights and organized labor.

Not exactly popular topics with voters in North Carolina – or in other swing states considered pivotal to President Barack Obama’s reelection chances.

While delegates’ approval of these and other guiding principles is key convention business, the content of a platform doesn’t necessarily sway voters, experts say. And elected officials aren’t bound to it.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people couldn’t tell you what’s in it,” said Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor in the department of history at American University in Washington, D.C.

“Social issues like abortion, or gay rights … usually don’t matter. Those are not the things that are most important to voters,” Lichtman said.

“What really matters to voters is how well the party in power has governed.”

Democratic platform committee members met last month in Minneapolis and Detroit to finalize the draft, designed to reflect the party’s vision for the country.

Tensions over marriage

When approved, the platform is expected to include wording supporting marriage equality and equal treatment for same-sex couples – a first for a major political party.

This spring, Vice President Joe Biden, and then Obama, endorsed same-sex marriage. Then North Carolina voters convincingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Since then, Republican Mitt Romney has held a slim lead over Obama in most North Carolina polls, notes economist William Hauk with the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

“I expect that President Obama’s explicit endorsement of same-sex marriage will be a slight negative with North Carolina voters,” Hauk said.

Jobs, economy – and unions

Convention organizers said Monday that the theme of this week’s gathering will be “building an economy from the middle out” – language that’s similar to what appears in a draft of the platform.

In addition to supporting high-tech manufacturing, “cutting red tape” for small businesses and raising the minimum wage, there’s also an express commitment to continue supporting unions – long a mainstay of the Democratic party.

But the South isn’t known for its pro-labor stance. A recent poll showed 50 percent in the South consider labor unions “necessary,” compared to 60 percent outside the south, according to Scott Keeter, director of survey research for Pew Research.

In North Carolina, workers can’t be forced to join unions under the state’s right-to-work law.

Women’s issues

Women’s rights issues discussed for inclusion in the platform include equal wages, contraception and a “woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion.”

While controversial political issues like abortion rights don’t typically tilt elections, Lichtman said, they could make a difference in a state like North Carolina, which Obama narrowly won in 2008 by about 14,000 votes.

“If Obama is going to win North Carolina like he did last time, it’s going to be very, very close,” Lichtman said. “While those particular issues generally are not going to matter, they could if it comes down to a few thousand votes.”

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