Politics & Government

12th District race is first without a Charlotte Democrat on ballot

For the first time since its inception, the 12th Congressional District will have no Charlotte Democrat on the ticket this fall.

That’s fine with Vince Coakley.

Coakley is the Republican vying for the seat long held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte. He’s a former Charlotte broadcaster who was lead anchor at WSOC-TV, which reaches more than 1 million households in the region.

Now he’s running against Greensboro Democrat Alma Adams, who won Tuesday’s Democratic primary on the strength of votes from outside Mecklenburg County, where turnout was low and three Charlotte Democrats scrambled after the same votes.

“We got caught up in a numbers game,” said state Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte, who finished second to Adams.

But while geography played a big role in Tuesday’s election, it could be trumped by partisan politics in a general election that offers voters a clear ideological choice.

‘Real-ville’ vs. real world

Anchored in the urban centers of Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, the 12th District is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2008, Barack Obama won 78 percent of the vote. Two years ago, Watt won with 80 percent.

Adams, a former educator and veteran legislator, is backed by groups representing liberals, women and organized labor. Coakley is a tea party-backed conservative who running on what he calls a platform of freedom.

“I think there’s going to be more traction than people realize that will transcend political party labels,” he said.

“I live in real-ville. I don’t live in a fantasy world where the federal government can wave a magic wand and solve every problem.”

On issue after issue – from health care to the minimum wage to the role of government – the positions of the two candidates are 180 degrees apart.

“I do live in a real world, and that’s where real people are suffering,” Adams said. “They’re suffering because they don’t have a wage that allows them to provide for their family Government does have a responsibility to help people.

“Yes, there are differences. And that’s probably good because people can see the differences.”

Splitting Charlotte vote

Next week, Adams returns to Raleigh for the start of the General Assembly session. She expects to run against Republican policies that included a voter ID law and controversial decisions on spending for education and Medicaid.

Adams and Coakley actually are competing in two contests: a special election to fill Watt’s current term and another for the right to serve the next two years. Both elections are concurrent. The winner of the special election is expected to be sworn in soon after Election Day.

Adams said she plans to spend time throughout the district, including in Mecklenburg.

“This district covers six counties,” she said. “I’m going to reach out and respect and work with everybody.”

On Tuesday, she piled up big margins in the Triad. In Guilford County, where turnout was 15 percent, she got more than 9,400 votes, or 62 percent of her total.

Mecklenburg turnout was just 9.6 percent. Three Charlotte Democrats – as well as a fourth who remained on the ballot despite dropping out – split the county’s votes. None fared well beyond county lines.

“It was problematic right from the very start with so many candidates in the race,” Graham said. “And we knew that it forced us to stay in Charlotte to protect our backyard.”

Now, the race shifts to more partisan terrain, where Republicans have never enjoyed much success. Coakley hopes to change that.

“I’m excited about our (primary) victory,” he said. “It’s a launching point to spread our message to a larger group of people.

“I got into this race not as a novelty or entertainment. I got into this race because I think I can win. And that’s what we will set out to do.”

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