U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick's surprise announcement Tuesday that she'll leave Washington after nine terms sparked a scramble by would-be successors that reached halfway around the world — literally.
Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Pendergraph, a Republican and longtime Myrick ally, is expected to announce his candidacy this morning - apparently with Myrick's blessing.
"Sue and I have been friends for 25 years and she's very close," said Pendergraph, a former Mecklenburg sheriff and one-time Democrat. "And I just would expect that she would (support me)."
Former GOP state Sen. Robert Pittenger, who is also among those mulling a run in the predominantly Republican 9th Congressional District, was notified by a reporter while on a mission trip in China.
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"I ... will discuss with my wife and family when I return," he said in an email.
And Andy Dulin, a GOP Charlotte City Council member whose district overlaps with Myrick's in southeast Charlotte, said he'll make a decision on whether to run by week's end.
Other Republicans mentioned: Mecklenburg Commissioner Bill James, who said he will decide soon; and Dan Barry, mayor pro tem of Weddington, who has been running in the crowded 8th District race but actually lives in the 9th.
Former Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory would have been a sure candidate for the seat if - after years of waiting for it to become vacant - he had not decided to try instead for the N.C. governor's mansion.
Mecklenburg County commissioner Jennifer Roberts, who's a Democrat, also is considering a run. So may Jeff Doctor, a Democrat who challenged Myrick in 2010.
But the 9th District has historically been a safe GOP seat - and one that rarely changes occupants.
With Myrick's departure in 2013, the office will shift to another person for only the fifth time since Republican Charles Jonas went to Washington in 1953. Since then, the seat was held by Jim Martin, Alex McMillan and Myrick.
Its boundaries have changed over the years, and it shifts shape again under the reapportionment map approved last year by the N.C. legislature. The Charlotte-centered district is even more Republican, with Mecklenburg County comprising a larger slice. It no longer includes Gaston County. Instead it takes in southern Iredell County and northern Union. Still, seven out of 10 district residents live in Mecklenburg County.
About 40 percent of the voters are registered Republicans, with Democrats comprising 32 percent and independents, 28 percent.
It's also a predominantly white district (83 percent).
'Grateful for the privilege'
Myrick, who will turn 71 this year, made her announcement on Facebook just days before Monday's start of filing.
"After thoughtful discussion with my family, I have decided not to run for another term in Congress," Myrick wrote. "I'm grateful for the privilege of serving. ... We will spend the rest of the year working on the issues that are important to all of you - and I hope to be a positive influence."
Myrick gave no reason for her decision. She and her staff did not return phone calls Tuesday.
Many GOP stalwarts expected her to run for a 10th term.
"I was quite surprised by her decision," said state Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican. "I talked to her the other day and never got an inkling about it. ... I applaud her for her great job and wish her the very best as we move forward."
Myrick's road to Washington began in Charlotte, where she served on the City Council before defeating Democrat Harvey Gantt in the 1987 mayoral race. She served two terms, then ran unsuccessfully for her party's U.S. Senate nomination in 1992.
Two years later, Myrick was elected to Congress as part of a GOP tidal wave that ended the Democrats' 40-year control of the House. She won with 66 percent of the vote, becoming only the second woman to be elected to a full congressional term in North Carolina.
Her platform that year called for term limits for members of Congress. But Myrick never got around to limiting her own terms, going on to easily win eight more times.
A staunch conservative, Myrick also managed to move up the leadership ladder in the House. By 2004, she was both a member of the powerful Rules Committee, which decides which bills go to the floor, and chair of the Republican Study Committee, whose members are often to the right of the House's GOP leaders.
Over the years, she emerged as a fiscal conservative, but one who favored federal money for road projects in her district. As a breast cancer survivor, she became a champion for increased coverage of mammograms. And, especially in recent years, Myrick waged high-profile, often controversial, campaigns against illegal immigration and radical Islam, which she charged had infiltrated the U.S. government.
On Tuesday, Republicans praised her record; some Democrats criticized it.
"Sue Myrick has been an incredibly effective leader," said N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes, a former congressman who served with Myrick. "Throughout her time in Congress, she earned the respect of the leadership by always being a strong voice for her district."
But N.C. Democratic Party spokesman Walton Robinson said voters in her district will now "have the opportunity to elect a responsive, constituent-oriented representative who will take their concerns to Washington - not the other way around, as Sue Myrick has done for so many years."
'Not just NO, but HELL NO!'
Myrick was not the kind of House member to show up on national talk shows every Sunday.
But, in 2006, she did made national news - and seemed to speak for many around the country - when she sent a one-sentence letter to President George W. Bush, then had her office email a copy to reporters.
"In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates," she wrote, "not just NO, but HELL NO!"
Myrick also demonstrated her toughness in a more personal way, by surviving breast cancer.
Diagnosed in 1999, she agonized over whether to make the news public.
"I have a very public job, so was concerned about what to tell the media about my surgery," she wrote in a 2005 blog for the website Yahoo! Health. "My husband and I discussed it and decided that I had a 'bully pulpit' and should go public if it would help others. It was the best thing I did."
She also served as a mentor for other GOP congressmen, including Cherryville's Patrick McHenry, who was the youngest member of Congress when first elected to represent North Carolina's 10th District in 2004.
"I have always been amazed by how hard Sue works," McHenry said in a statement Tuesday. "Her leadership on health care and our national security will be sorely missed."
Critics, foes welcome news
Myrick also had her share of foes, including Charlotte area Muslims and Hispanics who often criticized her outspokenness on issues relating to national security and immigration.
"We lost someone who worked tirelessly to fuel the flames of fear against the Muslim community and worked to make it hard for us to practice our faith openly," said Jibril Hough, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, who welcomed the news that Myrick was retiring.
Local Muslims criticized her for writing the foreword to a book - "Muslim Mafia" - whose researcher called Islam a disease. And in 2003, during remarks about domestic security threats, Myrick upset U.S. Arabs and Muslims by saying: "Look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country."
She publicly faulted the U.S. intelligence community for failing to see a connection between al-Qaida and Samir Khan, a radical Charlotte blogger who left for Yemen to edit a magazine for the terrorist group and was later killed in a U.S. strike.
Last year, the congresswoman made headlines when she cancelled appearances at 9/11 memorial events because, she told the Observer, intelligence sources had alerted her that her name had turned up in a threatening Iranian news agency article.
Some criticized her, saying she was exaggerating the threat for political gain. But with the 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, many members of Congress have been more concerned about their safety.
Appealed to GOP base
Some of the stands that upset Myrick's critics delighted her Republican base.
She put getting tough on illegal immigration near the top of her agenda, for example.
In 2005, she managed to include her amendment to deport any illegal immigrant convicted of drunken driving in a bill that passed the House but died in the Senate.
She forged on, later reintroducing the "Scott Gardner Act" - named for a Mount Holly teacher killed in a 2005 wreck caused by an undocumented immigrant driving drunk - in the House.
Washington correspondent Franco Ordonez and Staff Writer David Perlmutt contributed.
To read more, visit www.charlotteobserver.com.