Cal Cunningham for Senate

by Jim Longworth

On Tuesday, May 4, NC Democrats will select a candidate to oppose incumbent Sen. Richard Burr this fall. Had the election been held in 2008, just about any legitimate Democrat would have been favored to beat Burr. But that was then and this is now. Back then, Barack Obama was riding a crest of popularity, and most people had grown tired of Bush Republicanism. Now, Obama’s poll numbers have fallen off and Richard Burr has had time to add to his considerable war chest. That’s why whomever wins the Democratic nomination next week will face an uphill battle in November.

Fortunately, there are several outstanding individuals running in the primary who offer a viable alternative to Burr. Among them are attorney Cal Cunningham, an Iraq War vet from Lexington; Ken Lewis, an attorney from Durham; and Marcus Williams, an attorney from Lumberton. I got to know each of these three men when they appeared on my “Triad Today” television program earlier this month.

Absent from that group is Elaine Marshall who at first agreed to tape a segment with me on March 31, then backed out. Her spokesperson said it was too long of a drive from Raleigh to Winston-Salem just to do a TV interview. That would be the same long drive Bev Perdue made during her run for governor, and the same long drive Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton made last week to speak with me about jobs and the economy. Clearly, Marshall was afraid that making a gaffe while answering my questions might accelerate her sliding poll numbers (her 35-point lead has dwindled to 6 points). But any candidate who runs away from tough questioning doesn’t have what it takes to serve in the United States Senate. That brings us back to Cunningham, Lewis and Williams.

Ken Lewis told me: “The US Senate is broken. Instead of serving the long-term needs of our people, the Senate serves short-term, partisan interests. I’m not running to occupy a seat in the OLD Senate, I’m running to bring change to the Senate.” Unfortunately, Lewis’s proposals for bringing that change fall short.

While he proposes tax credits for companies that hire American workers, he dodged my question when I asked if he would vote to repeal NAFTA and CAFTA.

Lewis should realize that these bad trade agreements and the loopholes they afford corporate pirates are primarily responsible for the decimation of North Carolina’s blue-collar workforce.

Cal Cunningham, meanwhile, proposes to revamp those trade agreements, including a provision for ending tax breaks to companies that send our jobs overseas. He is also willing to consider my proposal for a freeze on health insurance premiums. So is Marcus Williams, who told me: “We may need to put a freeze on everything. We have a trillion-dollar debt that is growing exponentially, and we’re taking on more obligations.”

Unfortunately, all three men seem in lockstep with President Obama when it comes to extricating ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan. None of them are prepared to buck the president by calling for an immediate pullout of all troops from the region. In that regard, they appear more in line with Burr and the Republicans.

Cunningham, Lewis and Williams are men of great character, and any of them would do us proud in Washington. But Williams hasn’t the funds or the name recognition to garner the nomination, and Lewis’s ties to Obama’s coattails wouldn’t make him a strong contender in the general election. For those reasons, and because of his willingness to repeal bad trade agreements, Cal Cunningham is the most viable candidate to square off against Burr this Fall. His experience as a JAG officer in Iraq who prosecuted contractor abuses will also give him an edge when attacking Burr’s party-line support for a war we should have never started in the first place. Elaine Marshall, meanwhile, is trying to maintain a slim lead over Cunningham in the polls, but 45 percent of state Dems are still undecided, and Cal’s TV spots could attract many of them to his camp by Tuesday, forcing a runoff between the two. If that happens, the Democratic Party better hope Cunningham prevails, because he offers their best chance of unseating Burr.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).