Strong support outside Mecklenburg County lifted state Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro to a win in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in the 12th Congressional District, leaving her poised to succeed longtime U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte.
Adams, the only woman in a seven-candidate field, led with 43.65 percent of the votes. Charlotte Democrat Malcolm Graham was running a distant second with 23.86 percent.
Adams rode strong support in the Triad in winning five of the district’s six counties. Graham and three other Charlotte Democrats – including one who dropped out of the race – split the Mecklenburg County vote.
Adams will face Republican Vince Coakley, a former broadcaster, in November. Coakley was winning 78.01 percent of the vote against Leon Threatt of Matthews in the GOP primary.
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They’ll compete for a seat that’s open for first time in more than two decades in the district that runs from Charlotte to Greensboro.
Watt represented the heavily Democratic district since its inception. One of two African-Americans in the state’s congressional delegation, he stepped down in January to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
His departure left voters with unusual, concurrent elections on Tuesday: a special election for the rest of his term and a regular one for a full term that starts in January. Adams and Coakley won the nominations for both.
More than half the district’s voters live in Mecklenburg. But in the Democratic primary, Graham split the county with George Battle III, Curtis Osborne and James Mitchell, a former Charlotte City Council member, who remained on the ballot despite dropping out last month.
State Rep. Marcus Brandon of High Point finished fourth and Rajive Patel of Winston-Salem, seventh.
Adams, 67, would become the first Democratic woman from North Carolina in Congress since Eva Clayton of Warren County left in 2003.
‘Seems like a go-getter’
Her appeal clearly reached beyond the Triad.
“I like her; she seems like a go-getter,” said Otis Worthy, a 71-year-old voter from west Charlotte.
Adams not only had the biggest war chest in the field but the most help, with endorsements from groups representing women, progressives and organized labor. Two super PACs spent more than $186,000 on her behalf, much of it on mailers targeting Graham’s legislative record.
Battle, counsel for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, was making his first run for office. So was Osborne, a Charlotte attorney.
Candidates concurred on a lot
The Democrats differed little on other issues. All supported the Affordable Care Act and promised to push for a higher minimum wage, which Adams made a centerpiece of her campaign. All blasted the Republican-led General Assembly for rejecting federal Medicaid dollars and passing what they called restrictive voting laws.
They did split over school vouchers. Brandon supported vouchers, or public money used for private education, and helped Republicans enacted a voucher program known as “Opportunity Scholarships.”
The lawmakers in the field sought to make the election about effectiveness. A survey by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research showed Brandon ranked 73rd among 120 House members in effectiveness last year, while Adams ranked 106. Graham ranked 44th out of 50 senators.