27-year-old Democrat to run for powerful NC congressman’s seat in 2018

Ryan Watts
Ryan Watts Provided by Ryan Watts for Congress

In his campaign kickoff video, Ryan Watts outlined his family’s connection to North Carolina, his problems with partisan leadership in Washington and his hope to collaborate to solve the nation’s problems.

What the 27-year-old Watts, who is running for the U.S. House seat held by Rep. Mark Walker, does not mention is that he is a Democrat. That was not an accident.

“I certainly am a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I think Democrats are always right,” said Watts, who is running for office for the first time. “I also don’t think that the Republicans are always wrong. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time talking about Democrats and Republicans. We’re all Americans. It shouldn’t matter what party you come from. I’m a proud Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I want to vilify Republicans.”

Watts wants to represent the 6th District that includes most of Guilford County and all of Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Lee, Person, Randolph and Rockingham counties. The district is considered a solid Republican district by the Cook Political Report.

Watts is one of two Democrats to file the campaign-finance paperwork needed to run for office in the district. Margot Horney of Greensboro filed as a Democrat in late August, according to the FEC.

Watts said his father and stepmom are Republicans and his mother and stepdad are Democrats, giving him insight into both sides of the partisan debate. Among the issues where Watts said national Democrats are not always right is on spending. Watts said Democrats need to focus on the nation’s growing debt and that they can’t let Republicans “have a monopoly on conscientious spending.”

“We can’t continue to spend and spend and spend. It’s my generation that’s going to take on that debt,” said Watts, who called himself a fourth-generation North Carolinian. “My generation is the generation that’s going to be inheriting all of these issues that are being created, problems that are being created.”

Watts, who graduated from East Chapel Hill High and UNC-Chapel Hill, lives in Burlington. He is a senior consultant for Deloitte and previously worked for IBM, he said, with a focus on technology and its impact on the workforce.

He said Walker has placed his party above his district. Walker, a Baptist pastor from Greensboro in his second term, is chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Watts cited Walker’s support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, which would have led to a coverage loss for 78,600 people in the 6th District, according to a study by two economists on behalf of the left-leaning Center for American Progress who analyzed data from nonpartisan congressional researchers.

“When you run for Congress, your job is to go up there and represent your people and not your party. He’s risen very fast in the Republican Party because he’s toed the party line. We need less of that. We need less of toeing the party line,” Watts said.

Walker won the district with 59.2 percent of the vote in 2016, easily topping Democrat Pete Glidewell. Walker has more than $276,000 cash on hand, according to the FEC. No other Republicans have filed in the district.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not targeted the 6th District, though it has four other GOP-held seats in North Carolina on its list of 79 districts to flip. Watts said he’s hoping strong early fundraising will encourage outside organizations to get involved in his race.

Brian Murphy: 208.383.6089; @MurphinDC