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Scramble shaping up for Watt’s seat

RALEIGH Voters in the 12th District could be looking at a crowded field in a special election to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Mel Watt.

President Barack Obama tapped Watt on Wednesday to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. A special election, which would be called by Gov. Pat McCrory, depends on the timing of Watt’s resignation or his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

It could take place along with this fall’s scheduled municipal elections or before.

The heavily Democratic district snakes from Charlotte to Greensboro and includes portions of Winston-Salem. African-Americans make up 64 percent of the district’s registered voters.

A special primary election would be the first in North Carolina, according to longtime legislative counsel Gerry Cohen. There have been special elections, but each has involved candidates chosen by party executive committees.

Watt, elected in 1992, is the only representative the district has had. His long tenure is likely to create a scramble for the post.

When Republican Sue Myrick announced last year she would leave Congress after 19 years, 10 Republicans ran for her seat in the 9th District.

Already several Democratic lawmakers have expressed interest in Watt’s job.

State Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte said Wednesday he’s “definitely running” if Watt is confirmed. Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte said he’s “strongly considering it.”

Reps. Alma Adams of Greensboro, Marcus Brandon of High Point and Ed Hanes of Winston-Salem have also expressed interest.

Skip Alston, a former state NAACP leader and former chairman of the Guilford County commissioners, said he’d run if Adams does not.

The contest will almost surely be decided in a Democratic primary. African-Americans have a distinct advantage: They make up 76 percent of the district’s Democratic electorate.

About 52 percent of the district lies in Mecklenburg County; 27 percent lies in Guilford County, the next biggest population center.

Graham appears to be the furthest along in preparation.

Anticipating Watt’s departure, he already has lined up a Washington consulting firm, GMMB. He also has a Cary company working on a website and former Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight’s former chief of staff doing speech-writing.

“I’m ready if it comes to pass that the seat is open,” Graham said Wednesday. “We’re in it to win it.”

Morrill: 704-302-6359
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