'Nuclear option' may ignite Watt's chances for new post

Nov. 22, 2013 @ 08:17 PM

The historic vote in the U.S. Senate to short-circuit the use of the filibuster by Republicans against President Barack Obama’s nominees should have a major, direct effect on voters in High Point and across the Piedmont.
The vote Thursday by Democrats in the Senate to end the filibuster practice, a move referred to in political circles as the “nuclear option,” will clear the way for Rep. Mel Watt, D-12th, to become head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. If Watt takes the post, then a special election would be held sometime next year to fill his seat, which covers parts of High Point and the Triad.
Republican senators objecting to the congressman’s appointment had been using the filibuster threat to block Watt’s nomination, which the president made six months ago. But because of the Senate action Thursday, political analysts say Watt’s nomination should clear the Senate, perhaps just after the congressional holiday break in early to mid-December.
Watt isn’t commenting at this point on his prospects following the Senate’s action Thursday, a spokesman for the congressman told The High Point Enterprise.
If Watt is confirmed, a host of Democratic candidates who have been campaigning in a low-key fashion the past several months would ramp up their politicking to capture the seat. The 12th District, which stretches from the Triad through the central Piedmont to the Charlotte area, is a heavily Democratic district. Watt, first elected in 1992, has won the seat by large margins over an array of Republican challengers during the past 20 years.
The half a dozen Democratic candidates who are actively campaigning for the seat include state Reps. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, of High Point and Alma Adams, D-Guilford, of Greensboro. The winner of a special election would hold the seat through the November 2014 general election.
Brandon said the Senate’s action on the filibuster all but assures that Watt will be confirmed and that a special election will take place.
“I’m very much going on that assumption, especially since White House Press Secretary Jay Carney specifically said that Mel Watt would be a beneficiary of filibuster reforms,” Brandon told the Enterprise Friday.
The timing of a special election for the 12th District would depend on when Watt is confirmed and formally vacates his congressional seat. Gov. Pat McCrory would call a special election after Watt officially leaves office.

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528