Upstart legislator not going quietly in 12th District race

There are a lot of people running for Congress in the Triad this year, thanks mostly to the retirement of one stalwart and the appointment of long-time 12 th District Rep. Mel Watt to the president’s administration.

Watt, who represented the serpentine majority-minority district since its was reconstituted in 1992, was confirmed by the Senate to be President Obama’s director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency in December. That move set off a scramble among elected officials and wannabe politicians in Greensboro and Charlotte.

There were six viable candidates until this week, when former Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell dropped out, citing lackluster fundraising. First quarter election reports were due from federal campaigns on Tuesday.

So then there were five. Two really, if any sense of possibility is applied to the race, but let’s consider the field as it remains.

George Battle and Curtis Osborne are Charlotte-area lawyers, both with an athletic cut and a professional demeanor. The two struggle to stand out in the political arena, however, with Battle running on his record as the attorney for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Osborne on his career fighting for people who have been taken advantage of.

Both men have a strong personal pres ence combined with all the right talking points for a Democratic primary, but their outsider status is a serious obstacle in a primary against two veteran legislators and a brash upstart.

That upstart is state Rep. Marcus Brandon of Guilford County, who’s made quite a name for himself in two terms in the General Assembly. Brandon, who is the state’s only openly gay legislator, has worked hard on issues related to criminal justice reform. He sponsored an exoffender rally in Raleigh that highlighted the difficulties ex-offenders face in finding employment.

He also was able to get his Second Chance Act passed through a Republican legislature. The measure allows for lowlevel felonies to be expunged after certain requirements are met, thus making it a bit easier for those reformed by the criminal justice system to gain employment.

Brandon, who had raised the most money in the race by the end of the last reporting period, is an aggressive debater who doesn’t mind getting up in the mix with the two front-runners, state Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte and Greensboro’s Rep. Alma Adams.

At a forum in Greensboro, Brandon touted his ability to get bills passed through a Republican-controlled legislative body and said that his effectiveness should be considered by voters. He took issue with Mitchell when the former candidate said, that while he might not get bills passed, he would focus on constituent services and securing projects for the district.

He also took a jab at Adams when she highlighted her voice and willingness to fight from the minority party.

“The same Republicans that we faced in Raleigh are the same Republicans that we will face in DC,” Brandon said. “Coming back and saying ‘Republicans are in control and I couldn’t do anything’ is political malpractice. That is not good enough. It doesn’t put anybody’s food on the table because you showed up and showed out. It doesn’t get anybody educated.”

Brandon doesn’t shy away from this type of clarity, but so far it has not helped him in the polls. A Public Policy Polling survey last year found him at 5 percent support, and had Adams besting him in Guilford County with a 43 percent lead in the favorability rating. A recent poll from the Adams campaign last month showed Brandon taking home 4 percent of the electorate.

Graham and Adams traded first place in those same polls, spread out over eight months. In the first poll, Graham held a nine-point lead over Adams at 31 to 22 percent. In the recent poll, Adams held the lead at 26 to 19 percent.

Adams has gained several meaningful endorsements in the race. Core Democratic groups including Emily’s List, the NC Association of Educators and the AFL- CIO have each endorsed Adams in recent weeks. On April 7, the Adams campaign announced it has raised $150,000 during the first quarter of 2014. The campaign said it had $114,00 cash on hand.

“I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of support from across this district,” Adams said about the fundraising. “From Charlotte to Greensboro and everywhere in between, people are coming together to elect a strong new voice to Congress. I’m honored to have their support.”

Graham seemed confident at a candidate forum in Greensboro late last month.

With such a wide geographical base given his role as a state senator, he said that his goal was to knock out the other Charlotte competitors and face Adams in a runoff.

Given that there are roughly twice as many voters in the 12 th District from Mecklenburg County (382,000) than Guilford County (196,000) his come from behind strategy may pay dividends.

Brandon would certainly be a hard fighter and a vocal standard-bearer for important issues, but given the nature of the electorate, and the apathy many people feel for Congress, it seems certain that Graham and Adams lead the way.

But if Brandon is the face of the future of the Democratic Party in North Carolina, then party leaders, and voters alike, would be well served to rally to his sense of urgency. !