Dems Battle For 12th Congressional Dist. Nomination

Jun 3, 2016

North Carolina voters will pick Congressional candidates on Tuesday. The primary was delayed after a federal court ruled two districts were illegally drawn along racial lines. Now the state's Congressional District map has been completely redrawn - including the two districts that touch Charlotte. Thursday, we previewed the 9th District - southeast and east of Charlotte. Today, WFAE's David Boraks is with Morning Edition host Marshall Terry to talk about the 12th  District, which is now entirely within Mecklenburg County.

MT - Good morning, David. So let's start by talking about the new district. Remind us what's changed?

DB: The 12th District used to stretch from Charlotte to Greensboro along I-85 ... so narrow in places that people compared it to a snake. It was overwhelmingly Democratic, and 51 percent of voters were African-American.  

Now the snake is gone, and the district is compact. It covers the northern two-thirds of Mecklenburg County, from Charlotte to Lake Norman. It's still a Democratic district, now about 35 percent black. Here's WFAE political analyst Michael Bitzer of Catawba College:

BITZER:  It's still very much a... not necessarily a majority-minority district, but it is heavily African American because of the concentration of Charlotte, particularly the middle part of Mecklenburg County.

DB: Bitzer also points out it has a heavy concentration of Republicans in the northern part of the county.

MT:  So the incumbent, Democrat Alma Adams lived in Greensboro when she won the seat two years ago. Her Greensboro home is now part of the new Republican leaning 13th District.

DB: Right, so Adams decided to stick with the 12th. Back in March she said she was moving to Charlotte, and noted more than half her constituents are here anyway.

ADAMS: So I've already been representing those folks. We've done some good work together and we've gotten good feedback from the citizens there. So I want to continue the work that we were doing, and that's why I filed to run for the 12th district.

MT:  But her residency has been an issue in the campaign.  

DB:  Yes, probably the issue.  

At the recent League of Women Voters debate, all six Democratic candidates agreed on most issues ... they support more transportation funding and public campaign financing and opposed House Bill 2.  

But they really got into it when they talked about where they live.  

Adams has a townhouse in Charlotte's Fourth Ward, and she still has her house in Greensboro. So some still question where she lives. But even apart from that debate, her opponents say the recent move isn't enough.

State Representative Tricia Cotham made it her closing statement in that debate.  

COTHAM: It's important to note that our current congresswoman lives in Greensboro and has served Greensboro for many, many years at many different elected offices. I am from Mecklenburg County. I went to school here in Mecklenburg County. I was a teacher here in Mecklenburg County.

DB: We should note that Cotham doesn’t live in the new 12th District. She lives just outside it in Matthews. And to be clear, the law doesn’t require members of Congress to live in their districts.

Former state senator and Charlotte City Council member Malcolm Graham finished second to Adams in the 2014 primary. He's been running TV and radio ads playing up his longevity in Charlotte.

RADIO AD: [Music and narrator ... ] We need a congressman fully committed to the 12th district. Malcolm Graham has called Mecklenburg County home for 30 years. He's worked here, he's served here, he's worshipped here. 

DB: Graham also emphasizes his experience on the Charlotte City Council and his 10 years as a state senator

MT: Who else is in the race?

DB:  Representative Carla Cunningham of Charlotte. She’s a nurse and health care advocate. She’s been in the state legislature for four years. Like her opponents, she supports a higher minimum wage, but maybe not a big jump right away.

CUNNINGHAM: I think that we need to move to a livable wage, but we may have to do it in increments because if we go all the way to 15 at once, we could see small businesses suffer as well.  

Two other Democrats are from outside Mecklenburg:

Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem is a U.S. Air Force veteran. She worked 22 years at the U.S. Agency for International Development, investigating fraud and abuse around the world.

And then there's Rick Miller of Guilford County. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress once before, in the 6th District, around Greensboro

One other candidate dropped out - state Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte - although he’s still on the ballot.

MT: So there are a lot of unknowns here with the new district. Usually the incumbent has the advantage. Is that still the case?

DB:  It is in terms of the money. But we really don’t know where voters stand. There’s been very little polling, although Adams’ own polling shows her in the lead.

Our political analyst Michael Bitzer says Adams does have the resources and name recognition of an incumbent. But the new district boundaries and her background in Greensboro almost make it like an open seat.

BITZER: She’s facing particularly two well-known, well identified Democrats, Malcolm Graham and Tricia Cotham. It could come down to basically a three-way split between those candidates ... and it could be anybody’s ballgame.      

And Tricia Cotham points out that more than half the voters in the new district haven’t been in the 12th before.

MT: Let’s move on to the Republicans. They essentially had no chance in the old 12th District. Is that still the case?

DB: Well, as I mentioned ... north Mecklenburg is very Republican, and those folks are new to the district.

But it’s still 51 percent Democrat, 25 percent unaffiliated and 23 percent Republican. Most of the campaigning has focused on Charlotte.

So while it’s still a Democratic district, it’s fair to say Republicans could be more relevant in the general election.

MT:  So tell us about the Republican candidates.

DB: That's a three-way race, and you won't find a lot of disagreement - all are opposed to gun control, high taxes, the Trans Pacific Partnership and big government.

Leon Threatt of Matthews served in the Marines and is a former police officer. He and his wife, Carol, are co-pastors at Christian Faith Assembly church in Charlotte.

Ryan Duffie has the support of tea party conservatives. He was born in Japan, and moved around with a military family. He lives in Charlotte and works in financial services.

The third candidate is retired judge Paul Wright. He's tried for office before, including governor, U.S. representative and in March lost a primary to incumbent Republican Senator Richard Burr.