Democratic U.S. Rep. Alma Adams overcame a redrawn district and questions about her residency Tuesday to easily win the Democratic primary in the new 12th Congressional District.
Adams won 42.37 percent of the vote in the multi-candidate primary. Malcolm Graham, a former state senator, had 28.93 percent and state Rep. Tricia Cotham, 21.24 percent.
Rep. Carla Cunningham and Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem trailed, as did two Democrats who had suspended their campaigns.
In the Republican race, Leon Threatt, who ran in 2014, beat Paul Wright of Wayne County, 41.79 percent to 34.63 percent. Fellow Mecklenburg resident Ryan Duffie was third with 23.58 percent.
Adams carried precincts throughout the county, while Graham won a handful in the west and northeast, an area he once represented on Charlotte City Council. Cotham carried precincts in central Charlotte and north Mecklenburg, where she campaigned hard on the Interstate 77 toll issue.
“The journey took us back and forth to D.C. to do the people’s work to get the people’s vote,” Adams told told jubilant supporters. “I would like to thank my supporters for a spirited campaign.”
The election is the first since N.C. lawmakers dramatically redrew congressional districts after a panel of federal judges ruled that the 12th and 1st Districts had been racially gerrymandered.
The 12th, which had run from Charlotte to Greensboro, was shrunk to include most of Mecklenburg County. Adams has lived most of her life in Greensboro, where she taught at Bennett College and which she represented for more than two decades in the N.C. House.
The new district lines prompted Adams to move to Charlotte. And in a Democratic race where candidates generally agreed on issues, her rivals homed in not only on Adams’ move but her ability to represent a county in which she’d never lived.
“Alma Adams is intentionally deceiving Mecklenburg County voters,” Cotham wrote on Facebook. “She continues to live in Greensboro after telling us that she moved to Charlotte.”
Graham told a forum: “This is my home. I’m not passing through.”
But residency didn’t matter for voter Claretha Blackwell.
“I like what she’s doing and what she’s planning to do,” Blackwell, 85, said shortly after voting at East Stonewall AME Zion Church. “I don’t care where she lives.”
Nor did it make a difference to Freddye Taylor, a retired teacher.
“I think she’s done a good job,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where she lives.”
Adams’ residency did make a difference for Felisa Owens. She voted for Graham, who she said she’s long known. “I like him,” she said. “He’s a community guy.”
A TV report this month showed a reporter encountering Adams at her Greensboro home on Memorial Day and trying to question her as she drove away. That gave her Mecklenburg County opponents ammunition as they questioned her residency and argued that it matters.
Against that, Adams talked about her record, including getting federal dollars for Mecklenburg and advocating for programs in areas such as education and social welfare that would benefit people throughout the district.
She’s also had a war chest that dwarfed her opponents. Almost two-thirds of the $624,000 she raised came from political action committees representing corporations, trade groups and other members of Congress.
Her rivals dug into their own pockets.
Graham loaned his campaign $25,000, helping him raise a total of $84,000. Cotham loaned hers $30,000 while raising nearly $77,000. Cunningham loaned her campaign $20,000.
The money allowed Adams to be on TV and to flood the mailboxes of 12th District voters.
State lawmakers eliminated runoffs for this year’s races. But Adams and Threatt won over 40 percent of the vote, meaning they would have avoided a runoff despite the crowded fields.
In the Republican race, Wright, a retired judge who has lost races for U.S. House and Senate as well as governor, was barely visible in the district. He finished a surprising second over Duffie, who works in Charlotte.
Staff writer Tyler Fleming contributed.