By Tuesday, more than 35,000 delegates, members of the media and special guests are expected to be in Charlotte, N.C., for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Long seen as a red state, North Carolina has tipped the scales in recent years and CNN, among other outlets, now calls it a "toss up" for this election. Barack Obama won the Tar Heel State in 2008, albeit by a very slim margin of just 14,177 votes. In announcing Charlotte as the host city for the Democratic National Convention, first lady Michelle Obama said her and her husband's time spent in the city on the campaign trail influenced their decision.
"Charlotte is a city marked by its Southern charm, warm hospitality, and an 'up by the bootstraps' mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South," Mrs. Obama said. "Vibrant, diverse and full of opportunity, the Queen City is home to innovative, hardworking folks with big hearts and open minds. And of course, great barbecue."
Thousands of liberals are headed into what was, until recently, seen as a conservative stronghold. While the Billy Graham Library or the NASCAR Hall of Fame may not be on every Democrat's bucket list, these spots should make the cut -- that is, if they can escape from the Time Warner Cable Arena:
Levine Museum of the New South
For any Northern Democrats who need a history lesson on the post-Civil War South, the Levine Museum of the New South will do the trick -- and challenge a lot of preconceived notions to boot. The museum has held seminars on the "new Southerner" over the past week and spruced up its exterior in advance of the Democratic National Convention. It will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday for convention-related events and reopen to the public with its $100,000 makeover on Thursday. Special exhibits include "Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers," "Families of Abraham" and "Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina."
North Carolina boasts more than 80 breweries, and the young, artistic and free-spirited NoDa neighborhood houses one of the highest concentration of them, including Birdsong Brewing, Heist Brewery and NoDa Brewing Company. Officially known as Charlotte's Historic Arts District and unofficially as SoHo's little Southern sister, NoDa (short for North Davidson Street) has funky shops, hip restaurants and numerous venues for theater and live music. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more liberal enclave in the city.
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art unveiled its exhibition "Giacometti: Memory and Presence" on Aug. 31, featuring more than 80 works in various media from all periods of the Swiss artist's life. The exhibit, to be seen only at the Bechtler, features rarely displayed sculpture plasters, among 60 loans from the Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung in Zürich and the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation in Paris. The Bechtler's permanent collection, meanwhile, comprises mid-century modern art in various media by artists like Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Barbara Hepworth. The building itself -- designed with great drama by Swiss architect Mario Botta and opened in 2010 -- is a sight to be seen.
Obama's favorite show "Homeland" uses Charlotte as a double for Washington, D.C., so those politicians who feel lost outside of the Beltway should feel right at home. Like the nation's capital, Charlotte has no shortage of swanky bars to kick back after a hard day of networking. Check out the mahogany-paneled walls and leather couches of Cutter's Cigar Bar with a Twisted Mint Julep or "Charlotte's Manhattan" in hand. Or, if you want something more casual, saddle up to the belt buckle-trimmed bar at Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Whisky River or savor a pint of Mortimer's Pub. Need a laugh? Try the Democratic Divas Drag Show at Wet Willie's Monday night.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
For the eco-warrior attending the conference, Charlotte is home to the U.S. National Whitewater Center, a nonprofit outdoor recreation and training facility on 400 acres of woodland by the Catawba River. The $38 million facility features zip lines, rock walls, hiking and biking trails and the world's largest and most complex recirculating artificial whitewater river. The center is dedicated to "promoting healthy and active lifestyles" (a la Michelle Obama) and "developing environmental stewardship."