CHARLOTTE, N.C. The final sprint to winning the 2012 presidential election starts Thursday night for President Barack Obama on a stage at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Among his objectives as he strides before a cheering crowd of 20,000 is this: He must provide his loyal supporters in 10 critical swing states the language to explain to their friends – and potential voters – why he should be re-elected.
The outcome of his November race against Mitt Romney is likely to depend on his fate in close races in battleground states – from New Hampshire to Florida to Iowa.
Democratic delegates in Charlotte on Wednesday said they want Obama to be assertive – and clear – about what’s gone right during his first administration. But the language of re-election could vary from state-to-state.
• In Michigan and Ohio, delegates want him to articulate why the auto-industry bailout was a good idea for their states and the nation.
• In Virginia, where many jobs revolve around Navy shipyards, voters want to know that the president is committed to a changing military. • In Wisconsin, home to key Republican leaders including GOP vice presidential pick Paul Ryan, Obama needs to distinguish himself as the far better candidate.
Delegates in swing states, including North Carolina, say the president should use the speech at the Democratic National Convention to remind voters he understands the challenges on their home turf.
Michigan: Saving auto plants
Michigan delegates want Obama to “claim his victory” in helping save the state’s auto industry from the brink of disaster when he decided to prop up General Motors and Chrysler with an $80 billion loan.
“What my state needs to hear is what’s already been said: ‘GM is alive, and Osama Bin Laden is dead,’” said Julie Matuzak of Mount Clemens, a Detroit suburb.
“It’s so important for him to make it clear that: ‘I was the one who stood up and said we’re not going to let the car companies fail, and Mitt Romney was the one willing to let Detroit go bankrupt.’”
The loans helped prevent Michigan from “hitting a deep depression like we’ve never seen,” said Michael Mendez, a suburban Detroit delegate. “They kept the state alive. And I want the president to get his due credit and talk about it.
“Mitt Romney can say all he wants about managed bankruptcy, but when the time was critical to support the American automakers, he would have done nothing.”
Mendez also wants Obama to clearly lay out a plan for creating more jobs during a second term.
“We’re heavily unionized,” Matuzak said. “Republicans really want to dismantle unions, and you don’t hear that from the president. I’d like to hear him say that collective bargaining is important to growing the economy.”
Ohio: The stimulus worked
As a locomotive engineer, state Rep. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, Ohio, works near the Lordstown General Motors plant, “hauling cars in and out” of the facility by railroad.
Hagan says it’s a sign of how the Obama administration’s rescue of the auto industry not only spared jobs there, but in other industries, too.
The president should tout that, Hagan said, as well as his federal stimulus program. A Youngstown-based steel piping company is adding nearly 300 jobs through its $20 million stimulus grant. Overall, the program cost $787 billion.
“Those workers aware of the stimulation of our economy, and how it’s worked, are happy. We just have to get that message out,” Hagan said.
Virginia: Help the military
How well Obama convinces voters here could make the difference for other critical races, delegates said.
“We need Tim Kaine to follow Jim Webb in the Senate, so we can hold those two Senate seats for the Democratic Party,” said Janet Payne, 64, a faculty member with George Mason University. Kaine, the former governor running for the seat held by the retiring Webb, spoke at the convention Tuesday.
One delegate said military families in the state are paying attention to Obama’s plans for a restructured, “leaner” armed force, reflecting the end of major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When it comes to the military, we’re a pretty conservative and patriotic area,” said Victor Langhorne, 64, a retired history teacher from Hampton Roads. “I think the president needs to basically reassure the military veterans. Most of them know where he stands.”
North Carolina: 21st century jobs
North Carolina is one of the swing states with the highest unemployment rate – at 9.6 percent, well above the 8.3 percent national average. And the state’s delegates want to hear tangible ways to make it better.
Elena Botella of Charlotte explained: “Well, North Carolina is a state that has been really transformed by job training: We were a manufacturing state, we were a textile state, and now we are a biotech state,” she said.
“But part of why we’ve benefited is because we were able to transition our workforce.
“For North Carolina to remain competitive, I think it makes sense to talk about how states like ours made that transition and moved into a 21st century economy.”
Florida: ‘Toot his horn’
Florida delegates are confident Obama will win the state as he did in 2008, but they want him to “toot his horn” about his accomplishments Thursday night, which many say he’s not done well during his first term.
“I want him to not toot – but blow – his horn about what he’s achieved the last four years,” said Charlotte-raised Marian Williams of Orlando, Fla. “He needs to reaffirm his stands on everything from jobs, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. He needs to remind people that his health reforms have made it possible to keep children on parents’ insurance until they are 26, that those with pre-existing conditions can get health care.”
And he needs to trumpet his work to stem the job losses and start creating more than 4 million new ones the last nearly 30 months.
“We want to hear the truth of his record, which is admirable,” said Rafael Flores, a student from Miami. “If I have to be critical about the president, he has to be more clear about what his administration has accomplished.”
Iowa: The war and health care
Iowa delegate Marty Parrish, 49, of Clive, said voters in his state need to hear Obama emphasize that he ended the war in Iraq and that he’s made health care affordable and accessible.
“Many Iowans have lost their jobs and insurance as a result. When they start working again, they may not make as much as in the past,” said Parrish, adding that affordable health insurance is important for people in his state.
Parrish said voters in Iowa also need to hear Obama stress that he’s made health care affordable and accessible to everyone.
“Many Iowans have lost their jobs and insurance as a result. When they start working again, they may not make as much as in the past,” said Parrish.
Wisconsin: Remind people
In Wisconsin, voters are independent.
“What he has to do ... is remind the people of Wisconsin why they (gave him) the keys to the car,” said Sachin Chheda, 38, chairman of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party.
Chheda, adding that Obama won the state in 2008. “If they see him again in that light …Wisconsin will come back for him again.”
Denver delegate Halisi Vinson, a 48-year-old marketing consultant, said Obama should remind voters in her state about his plan for education. Colorado has benefited from federal Race to the Top funds for K-12 public schools.
Nevada: Jobs are coming
The swing state was hit especially hard in 2008 and, according to some delegates, still looks bleak. Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12 percent. Voters say the sluggish housing market is the state’s biggest issue.
Obama will need to persuade Nevadans to hold on, say delegates.
“People need to understand that jobs are coming back,” said Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson of Las Vegas.
“Nevada needs to understand Obama’s working hard. We’re not going to be what we were. We need to be more.”
David Bobzien, Assemblyman of Reno, agrees. He said a jobs plan is most important.
“For a long time, people were OK with construction or casino jobs,” Bobzien said.
“What is Nevada going to build for itself in the future to have more impact? Building houses or parking cars in casinos is not going to be the end-all-be-all.”
N.H.: Look them in the eye
New Hampshire delegate Ray Buckley said Obama needs to tell America about a “remarkable story” of accomplishments.
“He needs to look the country in the eye and tell America what his administration has done in four years – from 29 months of job growth to the Affordable Care Act,” said Buckley of Manchester, at his seventh convention.
“It’s a story that hasn’t been told to the fullest. Once people tune in to his accomplishments, more and more Americans will come to President Obama’s side.”
Reporters Carmen Cusido, John Frank and Meagean Dugger contributed.