Longtime Rep. Melvin Watt’s nomination to serve in President Barack Obama’s administration would spark a crowded race for his heavily Democratic district in North Carolina.
On Wednesday, Obama officially nominate the 11-term Democrat to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. If confirmed, Watt's subsequent resignation will create an opportunity that local and state politicians have been seeking for decades to ascend the state's political ladder.
“These guys for years had ceilings on the local level and the federal level, and all of a sudden there are no ceilings,” said Morgan Jackson, a Democratic consultant with North Carolina’s Nexus Strategies and a former Watt staffer.
Jackson added that the open mayoral seat in Charlotte (Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, was nominated to serve as Transportation secretary last week) could create two simultaneously open positions that state politicians have been eyeing for years.
“There will be a fascinating game of musical chairs,” Jackson said.
Watt – whose confirmation will likely be an uphill battle, as Republicans are expected to put up a fight in their disagreement about how to run the bailed-out Fannie and Freddie mortgage lenders – will likely not resign from Congress until his position on the FHFA is made official.
Thus, no candidates have officially announced their intentions to run for the seat that Watt has gripped since 1993. But the list of likely candidates includes:
- Malcolm Graham, a five-term state senator representing Mecklenburg County, which makes up half of Watt’s 12th District. Consultants in the state say that Graham, an African-American businessman who also served a few terms as a city council member in Charlotte, has higher political aspirations. His strong fundraising base and large appeal to the majority-minority district make him a likely candidate for Watt’s seat, consultants say.
- Ten-term state Rep. Beverly Earle, a retired Bell South employee, is a former mayoral candidate in Charlotte. As an African-American woman with ties to the local business community, Democratic consultants say she could stand out in a field filled mostly with male candidates.
- Former state House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman. Holliman, a white businessman from Davidson County, which makes up a smaller portion of the 12th District, has the potential of eking out a win if the minority vote is split among a few candidates, consultants say.
- Kevin Monroe, who served on Foxx’s mayoral campaign and as Obama’s North Carolina political director in 2008.
- Patrick Cannon, a Charlotte City Council member since 1993 and current mayor pro tem.
- Two-term state Rep. Rodney Moore, who consultants say has a large grass-roots network in Charlotte’s African-American community.
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According to state election rules, officials must host a special election to fill an empty House seat. They must announce the contest no less than 45 days before the special election.