Charlotte and Tampa: alternate realities
And now for an alternate reality.
Tampa is only 585 miles from this increasingly hip, healthy city that invested billions in a transit system that has spurred a “smart growth”-style resurgence, and the two regional powerhouses share a civic spunkiness, cultural diversity and development drive that has paid big dividends.
And of course Tampa and Charlotte — as well as the bedraggled delegates — shared Tropical Storm Isaac as it hit Florida and then petered out here into some still nasty rain squalls.
But when it comes to the rhetoric that cascaded from the podiums in the respective arenas and delegation headquarters, the sites of the Republican and Democratic national conventions seem more than light years apart.
Where the Republicans saw Obama last week as a “good guy but a bad president,” as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio put it while introducing GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Democrats are extolling the president in event after event — including a New York state delegation party at a bowling alley — as nothing less than a heroic figure who stood tall against partisan Republican efforts to destroy his presidency.
Where Republicans attacked Obama for not righting the economy and blaming others for his failures, Democrats spoke about 27 months of economic growth since the depths of the “Bush/Republican recession,” the successful bailout of the auto industry and the creation of millions of private sector jobs.
Where Republicans decried “Obamacare” as an assault on individual freedom and a budget-busting socialist experiment, Democrats defended it as a visionary plan to guarantee more and better — and eventually more affordable — care for tens of millions who wouldn’t otherwise get it.
And so it went, and will go through Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday night, on issue after issue shaping Election 2012.
The Republican and Democratic worlds are as different as New York and North Carolina. And when it comes not to political rhetoric but to economic reality, North Carolina and other states in the Sun Belt and elsewhere are eating New York’s lunch. And New York, which last year lost more than 30,000 people to North Carolina, is not alone.
But if you hear New York and Rust Belt Democrats complaining over the next two months about losing jobs and businesses to their warmer, lower-taxed, lower-wage counterparts — as they do, year-round — then they’re out of their minds. A big reason North Carolina and a few other normally Republican-leaning states, such as Virginia, are in play is because they’re not experiencing the reality spun by the GOP.
A headline in a Charlotte magazine distributed to conventioneers shouted, “Growth is Driving Force.” Another announced, “Uptick in Commercial Real Estate Rentals.” Still another reported on improvement in health, crime and other quality of life statistics.
As long as these numbers stay high in a healthy number of swing states, and especially the swing suburbs within them, Obama and the Democrats will continue to be seen as the person and the party who has led them back from the brink.
This Democratic dynamic isn’t only due to relatively strong economic recoveries in these states. Demographic change has also kept Obama competitive, from the increasing number of Democratic-voting minorities to moderate, independent and “persuadable” retirees from Democratic states.
It’s also not only a Sun Belt phenomenon. Obama has led in Ohio and Romney’s home state of Michigan on the strength of an economy in part driven by his rescue of the auto industry.
By the same token, several swing states are continuing to feel the pain. Nevada may be mostly desert, but more than half of its homeowners are “under water” with mortgages, and unemployment far exceeds national averages.
Nevada, as well as neighboring Arizona, are competing for a dubious crown: foreclosure capital of America. These two states, with demographics that should have moved them firmly into the Democratic column by now, seem fairly sure things for Romney.
Obama’s biggest problem in Florida — the original Sun Belt siphon, where polls show him and Romney going back and forth — is an economy lagging due to a real estate bust. If not for retiree concerns about GOP plans to alter Medicare, Florida would be as lost to Democrats as Pennsylvania — another state doing better than average — has been conceded by Republicans.
If you want to know how the candidates are really doing, pay attention not just to the polls, but the key economic data in the handful of states that will decide this election.
Lawrence C. Levy is executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.