Barack Obama won the state of North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008. His return in 2012 was supposed to be triumphant, a celebration of the swing of this formerly red state to the blue column. If his return is underwhelming, what was meant to solidify a new Democratic foothold in the South may actually undermine it.

The NY Post reports:

Top aides on President Obama’s re-election team are terrified that there will be scores of empty seats when he makes his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, party insiders said.

Obama, once the biggest draw in politics, won’t likely attract crowds as large as those at the 2008 convention because voters have gone sour on the poor economy, insiders said.

“It’s always a concern about making sure there aren’t empty seats, but this is different,” said one Democratic official familiar with the convention plans.

“This is a different time than four years ago. It’s a different convention. And the president is viewed differently.”

Bank of America Stadium holds 73,000, and the campaign has already held one of its $5-donation drives for seats. Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver (formerly Invesco Field), where Obama gave his 2008 acceptance speech flanked by Greek columns, held 76,000.

But polling shows people aren’t as fired up this time around. High-profile Democrats and labor bosses are actively encouraging members of Congress and supporters to skip the three-day affair, which was a four-day affair until underwhelming fundraising and the fear of underwhelming crowds forced Dems to cancel a festival at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

And, as Democrats slink reluctantly into their convention, what was supposed to be a triumphant moment for the Tar Heel State may become an embarrassing misfire, no matter how much Democratic officials, including the mayor of Charlotte, try to play it cool. Charlotte is fast-growing but smaller and less well-known than many host cities, in a part of the country always anxious to prove that its cities are as ready for big events as any other (while usually being friendlier, safer, and more solvent, if you ask me, but I’m Southern). This is supposed to be the Queen City’s moment in the sun— the first time people learn Charlotte is even called the Queen City. What they’re shooting for is an Indianapolis-Super-Bowl scenario, where the event exceeds expectations and the entire country and snooty media are pleasantly surprised by Charlotte’s lovely people and beautiful weather. Are dismissive treatment by the Democratic Party and subsequently smallish crowds going to help with that goal? Especially compared to the party’s slobbering over Denver, this will not endear the state’s already skeptical voters. Check out the local coverage:

And, as I’ve written before, state Democrats aren’t doing much to make the state more hospitable, “what with their least popular governor in the nation, sexual harassment scandals, slapstick legislative mishaps, old-fashioned corruption, and the recent reminder that they’re the ones who brought you John Edwards.”

The economy, plus the angst of local Democrats, plus the perception of public eye-poking by national Democrats may mean they’ll have to wait quite a while before they can make this red state blue again.