Free for all coming in new 12th congressional district?

Malcolm Graham
Malcolm Graham

Things are heating up behind the scenes as candidates salivate over North Carolina’s new 12th congressional district.

One of the most dramatic changes legislators made when they redrew the maps this month in response to a federal court order was to confine the 12th District entirely to Mecklenburg County. For more than 20 years the district has snaked from Charlotte up I-85 to the Triad.

The new boundaries still have to be approved by a federal district court, but if they are, they have enormous political ramifications. The incumbent, Rep. Alma Adams, lives in Greensboro and has few natural ties to the new district. A long line of potential candidates are licking their lips at the prospect of winning the friendliest congressional district for Mecklenburg Democrats in decades.

Adams is running. Former Charlotte City Council member and state senator Malcolm Graham plans to run. State Reps. Carla Cunningham, Rodney Moore and Tricia Cotham are considering a bid. And some think Michael Barnes, who ran unsuccessfully for Charlotte mayor last year, is eyeing the race.

All are Democrats. Cotham is the only white candidate in that group. In the new 12th District, 51 percent of registered voters are Democrats and 35 percent of the voting-age population is black, down from the previous version’s 64 percent Democrat and 50 percent black. The district is entirely in Mecklenburg, which may end Adams’ career.

Because the legislature passed a law eliminating congressional primary runoffs this year, the person who gets the most votes is the nominee and almost certainly is the next member of Congress, regardless of what percent of the vote he or she wins. So if there are a number of African-American candidates, they could splinter the black vote and allow a white candidate to hold the seat for the first time ever.

In an email, Cotham told us: “I feel very strongly that our county deserves someone who understands our complex issues and someone who can interact with all of Mecklenburg. I pride myself on my record of effectiveness (especially in a GOP controlled branch), ability to grasp and work on complex issues, build relationships, even where there are differences, and setting a positive example. I’ve had lots of encouragement from a broad spectrum of residents in Mecklenburg. That’s humbling. Like many others, I’m taking a look at this potential opportunity to continue my service to Mecklenburg.”

Filing for the seat runs from March 16 to March 25. -- Taylor Batten