Gabriel Ortiz and Patrick Register, Democrats challenging Rep. Alma Adams, suggest the 71-year-old congresswoman is too old.
Adams counters "they're just young boys."
Clearly, the latest chapter in the political battle of the generations in Charlotte is on.
Ortiz, 36, said he’s running in next month’s Democratic congressional primary because “the average age in Charlotte is 35, with kids, and we don’t have anyone in the Charlotte area representing our interest in Washington, D.C., as we see them.”
Register, 37, isn’t directly calling Adams too old for office, but mentions that “the person fighting for our Social Security is already getting it.” Adams does receive Social Security benefits.
Two of the three longshot challengers seeking to defeat Adams, a Democrat, are making her age an issue as they hope to ride the same youthful wave that swept six under-40 candidates onto Charlotte’s 11-member city council last year.
“It was a millennial movement on the Charlotte City Council… I think they see that, they’re (angry) about Trump, they see the success that Democrats have had in Mecklenburg County electing young progressive folks, and they’re going to take a shot at it," said Dan McCorkle, a North Carolina Democratic consultant who isn’t involved in any of the congressional campaigns.
Adams, running for her second term in the Charlotte-based 12th Congressional District that was redrawn in 2016, and fourth term overall, said her younger congressional competitors have a lot to learn about Washington.
“Everybody who comes into the Congress in 2018 will go to the back of the line,” she said. “Congress is about seniority....maybe they’ll do a little more research to find out what’s going on.”
Ortiz said he’s been thinking about running for Congress since he was 23 and first moved to the Charlotte area. He said last year’s city council results “reaffirmed to me that it was a good time to run. I think it’s time that our generation stand up and starts representing ourselves.”
Asked what those generational differences are, Ortiz replied “Representative Adams is (71) years old.”
He explained there are “a lot of generational differences, I think, in focusing on small business leaders in Charlotte as well as education,” said Ortiz, who runs swimming pool construction and outdoor products companies.”
Register, a Postmates and Uber Eats driver, said Adams has been a good representative in Washington but questioned her passion for the job.
“I feel like she doesn’t have a passion for the immediate community she’s representing, and I say that geographically,” he said.
Mecklenburg County is one of the youngest parts of North Carolina with a median age of 34.5 compared to 37.9 years for the rest of the state, according to Mecklenburg County Public Health statistics.
Millennials were the largest bloc among Charlotte’s registered voter pool last year at 36 percent, according to an analysis by Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer using state election data.
However, voters between 18 and 25 made up just 2.5 percent of those who took part in Charlotte’s general election last November, according to Mecklenburg County Board of Elections data.
Voters between 26 and 40 accounted for 18.38 percent of ballots cast in Charlotte while people between 41 and 65 made up 52.41 percent of the vote. Those over 65 constituted 26.64 percent of the Charlotte votes cast, according to Mecklenburg County figures.
“Millennials are the plurality in the city and county but they don’t show up,” Bitzer said. “Will they show up this time? That’s the great unknown. But there is a very strong momentum.”
Asheville, N.C., City Council member Keith Young, the third Democrat running against Adams, doesn’t have a problem with her age. It’s Adams’ profile that prompted him to get into the race.
He said Adams hasn’t been a forceful, high-profile critic of President Donald Trump. Young’s model for an anti-Trump Democratic congressional attack dog? Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who is 79.
Waters, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has gotten under the president’s skin, referring to him last month as “con man Don” after he called her “a very low-IQ individual.”
“I think that me, personally, I could definitely be a stronger voice of opposition to the current administration,” said Young, 38.
Adams, who has been a leading critic of the Trump White House on higher education issues, said Young is “totally uninformed” about her work in Washington and about the congressional district that he lives nearly 130 miles away from.
“I’m not worried about him,” she said. “I’m going to beat them all fair and square and they’re going to know they’ve been beat. And I approve this message.”
Young, Ortiz and Register are all considered longshots in the May 8 primary. Like Young, Ortiz lives outside the 12th Congressional District. He resides next door in the 9th Congressional District, served by Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.
Register, who listed his mother’s address in Pittenger’s district as his residence on his campaign filings in February, said he was actually living in the 12th, sleeping in a van in a Planet Fitness parking lot on Highway 51 just across the district line.
He said he has since moved into an apartment in East Charlotte.
The Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill contributed to this story.