Crystal Richardson represents one of the most sought-after prizes of Charlotte’s Democratic mayoral primary: She’s a woman. She’s black. And she’s undecided.
Those groups hold the key to the Sept. 15 primary, whose winner will be favored to become the next mayor of an increasingly Democratic city.
Democratic candidates are targeting black voters. They’re tailoring appeals to women. They have dueling groups of female supporters.
“We know that the electorate is tilted: one, toward African-Americans, and two, toward women,” says Trevor Rodgers, who is managing David Howard’s campaign. “And the highest demographic group is African-American women.”
Consider the numbers:
▪ Black voters make up 64 percent of registered Charlotte Democrats, nearly two of every three.
▪ Women account for nearly six of every 10 Democrats. Black women make up almost two-thirds of Democratic women.
▪ In 2013, when two African-Americans battled for the mayoral nomination, about 70 percent of Democratic and unaffiliated primary voters were black, according to two campaigns that studied the results. Almost half the primary voters were black women.
This year incumbent Dan Clodfelter faces African-American city council members Howard and Michael Barnes as well as Jennifer Roberts, a former Mecklenburg commissioners chair.
A new Observer Poll showed Roberts leading among black voters with 37 percent, nearly double Barnes’ 20 percent. Howard and Clodfelter trailed.
But for Crystal Richardson, a 31-year-old attorney, it’s a choice among Clodfelter, Howard and Roberts.
“I like them all for different reasons,” she says. “In weighing the pro and cons of each, I kind of land on different candidates.”
Meredith Laney is struggling with the same choice. A past president of the Charlotte chapter of the National Organization for Women, she leans toward Roberts but is undecided.
“We need to see more females running, but just because you’re female doesn’t make you the best candidate,” she says. “I’m torn.”
Chasing the vote
As the first candidate – and only woman – in the race, Roberts had a head start. She was endorsed by Emily’s List, a nationwide group that helps Democratic women who support abortion rights. Her own poll last spring showed her with an edge among women.
A new Observer poll also shows Roberts leading among women and black voters. She was capturing 40 percent of the women’s vote and 37 percent of the African-American vote.
“She’s a people person,” says Denise Bridges, a retired police captain and an African-American. “It’s pretty genuine. She doesn’t care about race or color, male or female. She just cares about the city.”
Last Thursday Roberts and Clodfelter both attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser at the Elder Gallery in South End. At the same time, Barnes and Howard were celebrating Women’s Equality Day at uptown’s Levine Museum.
A group called Women for Howard plans a lunch hour rally Tuesday in South End. Chatima Johnson had scheduled a meet and greet Friday night at a westside cafe.
“I wanted women to meet him,” says Johnson, “because we do vote and we want to kind of look him in his face. There’s some accountability there.”
Meanwhile, “Women for Clodfelter” meets Sunday night at a restaurant off Providence Road with some of the city’s most prominent Democratic and business women.
Among the hosts: county commissioner Ella Scarborough, former council members Cyndee Patterson and Betty Chafin Rash and business executives Katie Tyler and Krista Tillman.
The organizer is Jill Dinwiddie, former director of the N.C. Council for Women and current chair of Planned Parenthood of the South Atlantic. Roberts, she says, “would have been the logical person for me to support.”
“I don’t think women should be voting for her just because of her gender if they think one of the other candidates is better qualified,” says Dinwiddie. “I just think (Clodfelter) is the person with the best qualifications.”
There’s no Women for Roberts, says campaign manager Jacob Becklund, “because Jennifer is competing for every vote.”
“She’s leading in every demographic, and Jennifer is a woman,” he says.
Barnes also dismisses the need for such groups.
“I am targeting all eligible voters,” he says. “I have not officially organized any groups like that but I have always received very strong support from all segments of our community.”
The Observer Poll showed 15 percent of the likely primary voters are undecided. One is Janine Johnson, a relationship manager at Wells Fargo.
“I’ve got two African-American candidates; I also have a woman who is kind of tried and true,” she says. “She’s been around.”
Democratic Rep. Tricia Cotham of Matthews says she’s heard from a lot of undecided women.
“This signifies to candidates and campaigns that you’re going to have to persuade them to be on your team, and then get them to the polls,” she says.