Early voting began Thursday in North Carolina, and this week we’ve seen numerous debates as candidates push to get their message out to voters. Wednesday night’s debate at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte had the most complete panel of candidates of any so far for the 12th Congressional District.
A band greeted folks as they arrived at Biddle Hall. Upon closer inspection, even the musicians weren’t without political influence. They were wearing bright yellow “Malcolm Graham for Congress” t-shirts.
Shamere Herder, a junior at JCSU, stopped to listen on her way in. She said she came to get to know the candidates, and she’s looking for someone who stands out to her.
“I just feel like as long as they speak with intelligence and stand up and say they are for leadership,” Herder said.
More specifically, she’s looking for someone who will speak about the cost of higher education.
Inside the hall, Darryle Osborne took a seat and looks over his program.
“I would like to see whether or not they’re going to address any of the areas of the Constitution of the United States, especially the area of domestic tranquility and the military,” said Osborne.
Osborne and Herder and the hundred or so other people who came to watch the debate got to hear from seven candidates. Crowded behind a table on stage were Democrats Alma Adams of Greensboro, George Battle of Charlotte, Marcus Brandon of High Point, Malcolm Graham of Charlotte, Curtis Osborne of Charlotte, and Rajive Patel of Winston-Salem. The lone Republican, Vince Coakley of Charlotte, was wedged in the middle.
This was the first debate for Rajive Patel, a former mayor of the town of East Spencer. He hasn’t campaigned much. Instead, he’s mostly encouraged voters to just check out his web site.
While the six other Democratic candidates politely agreed with each other on most issues, Patel was clearly the most demonstrative.
“I want to change the face of poverty in the 12th district. I want to remove the stigma of the poorest district in North Carolina…gridlock or not, because I am here and we are living in it," Patel stated.
And Patel, a Vietnam veteran, said the government needs to do more to help veterans transition into civilian life.
“I am an advocate for the veterans because I am one, and I live it everyday. Everyday. Nobody can advocate for a veteran and know where I’m coming from unless you know where I’ve been.”
The candidates all talked about their backgrounds. Curtis Osborne’s story struck a chord with Darryle Osborne, no relation. Both served in the military. And Darryle Osborne said he learned they grew up in similar circumstances, too.
“He stands out a lot. Plus, with him coming up in public housing, I didn’t know that. His background actually stands out well."
Things got a little awkward for Republican Vince Coakley during the lightning round. Candidates were asked to raise their hands if they supported an issue. Several times, Coakley was booed by the mostly Democratic crowd as his hand stayed down as all the Democrats’ raised theirs. That happened when panelist Rick Thames of the Charlotte Observer asked the candidates whether they support background checks on all commercial sales of guns.
Coakley clarified that he’s not against all background checks, but that those currently required are enough.
On the issue of legalized recreational marijuana, the lone raised hand was Marcus Brandon’s…
“I’m the sponsor of the bill [to legalize recreational marijuana] in North Carolina.”
For JCSU junor Shameer Herder, that issue----not tuition costs---ended up being the deciding factor.
“I feel like to take on that, because there are so many people against it, to take on that and to show that this is what I stand for and I’m not afraid to show that I stand for it…that was really good," Herder said.
Others seem to have come, minds made up, sporting campaign stickers and carrying signs to cheer on their candidate. The candidates and their supporters will have many more chances in the coming days to try to win over undecided voters. The primary election is May 6.