Swing states cook up trouble for Obama

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Media captionRon Ahlert voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but doubts that will in 2012

Chef Ron looks on with approval as his latest pupil chops into an industrial-size pile of collard greens.

Lakesha Lamans is preparing the southern staple - somewhere between spinach and cabbage - before learning how to steam it and douse it in vinegar.

It is a bit different from the job she did for 11 years as a payroll clerk.

The Community Culinary School of Charlotte is in North Carolina, a swing state.

President Obama captured the state in 2008 - the first Democratic presidential contender to do so since Jimmy Carter. He will hope to do so again.

The Democratic National Convention will be held here.

Dole to payroll

But the mood is sour. Chef Ron has seen it first hand. The state's unemployment rate is 10.5% - higher than the national average.

Charlotte has been hit particularly hard because so many national banks have their headquarters in the city.

Chef Ron's school retrains people to work in catering. It was set up with the aim of helping those who have barriers to employment. In the past that meant problems with drugs or drink.

Then, as the recession hit, an unemployed aluminium worker pointed out there were no such plants in the state any more and his redundant skills were a barrier to employment.

So now they help all-comers and there are 100 applications a month for just a few places.

The people on the course do not pay a fee or get a government grant. It is a barter system. They help make meals on wheels and the charity trains them in return.

Chef Ron says his motto is "From the dole to the payroll, that's our goal".

Something dramatic

But he doesn't think the president is doing quite as good a job as his school. He is an independent - a swing voter - who voted for President Obama last time.

He tells me he is disappointed.

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Image caption Experts say the swing vote could be crucial to determining the outcome in the 2012 US election

"I don't know if I've seen him do anything wrong," he says. "I just haven't seen him do much that is right. I haven't seen him increase as many jobs as I thought they would be doing.

"I haven't seen the stimulus money really impact the constituents of the city of Charlotte. I'm just an average American, a cookie-cutter, average, United States-loving American and I want to make sure we stay on top as a superpower economically.

"I just don't see that happening and I don't know how the future will look."

I ask him if he would vote for President Obama again.

"I don't believe I'd vote for his administration unless something dramatic happens over the next few months or the next year."

North Carolina is an important state and the Democrats have acknowledged that by choosing it as the site of their convention next year when President Obama will be officially chosen as candidate.

In 2008, he was the first Democratic contender to win the state since Jimmy Carter more than 30 years before.

It is not a happy precedent for his party. The key to all elections is turnout - and the relatively tiny number of swing voters.

Many of them, like Ron, will be looking for something dramatic from the president if they are to grant him a second term in the White House.

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