N. Carolina's Mel Watt faces little challenge to re-election

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 1, 2008 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LaWana Mayfield spends her days working to find alternatives to incarceration, and she volunteers for a variety of civic groups.

When she needs help with any of her projects, the Charlotte woman says she knows who she can rely on, Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat.

"I've met him on several different occasions with a lot of different groups," says Mayfield, coordinator for the Mecklenburg Justice Project. "And when I go to Washington, I'm always able to get an appointment to see him – and not just his aides, I actually get to sit with the congressman."

As Election Day nears, Watt feels confident he'll be re-elected to a ninth term in office against Republican Ty Cobb Jr., a retired engineer and military man who lives near Salisbury.

More than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans live in the 12th Congressional District, a lightning-bolt shaped district that includes Charlotte, Winston-Salem and High Point.

Cobb has raised about $22,000, compared to Watt's $600,000 for the two-year election cycle.

"Ty Cobb is a good candidate, a sincere candidate, he has worked hard, and he's certainly to be commended for taking the high road in this campaign," says Marlynn Burns, the 12th District's GOP chairwoman. She says the district is so gerrymandered to favor a Democrat, that Republicans have little hope for a representative who reflects their views.

Cobb, no relation to the famous baseball player of the same name, says he wants to cut most government spending by 10 percent, and he has not been shy about calling attention to Watt's record as he attends campaign events.

In front of a group of Republicans gathered in Harrisburg recently, Cobb pulls out his cell phone and pretends to call Congress' financial services oversight subcommittee that Watt chairs on Capitol Hill.

"He's asleep? Go ahead and wake him up," Cobb says into the phone.

Watt dismisses the suggestion that he stood by while Wall Street fell apart, saying he was one of the first members of Congress to try to prevent the lending mess six years ago when he and Rep. Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat, introduced a predatory lending bill.

Watt says he thinks voters ought to consider his seniority, and that he's ideologically in step with them. He says his top priority is being responsive to constituents.

"I'm not selling anything other than the experience and commitment I have already made to this community," Watt tells church-goers gathered at north Charlotte's Mayfield Memorial Baptist Church to hear from various political candidates. Watt reminds them that he grew up nearby in a house with a tin roof and without an indoor toilet.

When it's Cobb's turn, he tells the group about his "walk with God"” growing up a Baptist and later becoming a Presbyterian elder.

"I do have special interests," he admits. "Jimmy, Jonathan, Ty IV, Griffin and Carson. I don't want to leave the mess our country is in today to those five grandsons."

Mayfield says she liked what Cobb had to say and appreciated that he was the only Republican to attend the event. She thinks he'd be a good person for Watt to reach out to across party lines after the election.

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