Former state Sen. Fountain Odom, a Democrat from Charlotte, says he plans to run for the new open seat that includes northern Mecklenburg County and part of the Queen City.
"Aha!" say Senate Republicans.
During the special session this week to draw new legislative districts, Senate Democrats listed that seat as one an African-American candidate would have a chance to win.
But Senate Republicans say District 40 fits the Democrats' pattern of parceling out black Democratic voters to prop up white Democrats. African-American voters were pulled from surrounding districts to create the new one.
"The last time I looked at Fountain Odom, he was a white man," said Sen. Robert Rucho of Matthews. "An old white man."
In the redrawn maps, Rucho and fellow Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger of Charlotte share a Mecklenburg district where there'll only be one winner.
Odom was an influential senator -- a 14-year veteran and a chairman of the budget-writing committee -- before Pittenger defeated him last year in a district drawn by a Superior Court judge.
It was an expensive race. According their campaign finance reports, Odom spent more than $750,000 and Pittenger spent more than $638,000.
Odom hasn't made a secret of his desire to run again. In a fund-raising letter this year that asks recipients to help retire his campaign debt, he mentioned that he wanted to return to the Senate.
Odom said Wednesday that he moved in October from his home near the South Carolina line into a condominium farther north to be closer to UNC-Charlotte, where he's been asked to teach. The new condo also is closer to Interstate 85. Odom's wife, Carmen Hooker Odom, runs the state Department of Health and Human Services, and Odom says the move cuts a half-hour from the trip to Raleigh.
Rucho, however, finds it hard to believe that Odom's move just before the new district lines were approved is mere coincidence.
"It seems to me Tony Rand is trying to take care of the good-old-boy white Democrats and bring them back," Rucho said.
Rand, the Senate majority leader from Fayetteville, says he has done no such thing. "I drew the district for anybody that wanted to run," he said.
The district is what Democrats are calling a "coalition district," where black and white voters combined can determine the winner. Nearly 60 percent of the district's registered Democrats are African-American, so Democrats reasoned that black voters can determine who wins the primary.
Odom scoffs at speculation that the district was drawn for him. The Republican arguments ring hollow, he said.
"Everything is a conspiracy if it's not what they want," Odom said. "There are plenty of people in that district, both Democrat and Republican, who could say it was drawn for them."
Judicial race brewing
Doug Berger, a Democrat and deputy commissioner of the state Industrial Commission, plans to run for the state Court of Appeals seat held by Democrat Linda McGee.
Berger says he plans to use the public campaign finance system in place for appellate court judges. All judicial candidates will run without party labels next year.
Berger, 43, was an assistant district attorney in Johnston and Franklin counties from 1990 to 1994 and has been a judge hearing workers' compensation cases for about nine years. He ran for labor commissioner in 2000, losing to Republican Cherie Berry.
By staff writer Lynn Bonner, who can be reached at 829-4821 or firstname.lastname@example.org.