Make no mistake — this election is huge

by Keith Barber

Midterm elections have a popularity problem. It’s no mystery why voters get energized and mobilized for a presidential election. The stakes are incredibly high, and the media coverage is intense. But I would argue that the 2010 midterm elections are just as important, and there is simply no excuse for low voter turnout.

Two years ago, North Carolinian voted in record numbers, and President Obama became the first Democrat to carry the state since Jimmy Carter. Voter turnout hit 70 percent in the Tar Heel State. My question at the time: What were the other 1.9 million voters thinking? I even drove my 89-year-old grandmother to the polls in my hometown where she enjoyed curbside voting.

As in 2008, there are some incredibly important races on this year’s ballot. The marquee race matches US Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem native, against NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.

Burr has enjoyed a major fundraising advantage over Marshall, but Marshall — the first woman to win statewide office in North Carolina history — is battling back.

Marshall’s campaign announced that the candidate raised $1.22 million during the third quarter. Burr raised $1.6 million during the same time period. Still, Burr holds a tremendous fundraising advantage. The one-term incumbent has raised $10.6 million for his re-election campaign, while Marshall has raised $2.3million. If Marshall can overcome Burr’s advantages, North Carolinians would have two women representing them in the US Senate — a historic achievement.

Depending on the way voters are leaning, the 112 th Congress could have a completely new look when its members are sworn in next January. Republicans are hoping to win back the majorities they lost in 2006. One of the most conservative Republicans, Virginia Foxx, represents North Carolina’s 5 th District. Foxx faces Billy Kennedy, a carpenter and farmer from Watauga County. This race has proven to be one of the most intriguing in the state.

I had an opportunity to spend some time on the campaign trail with Billy Kennedy this spring. I found Kennedy to be genuine and sincere as he shared his firm belief that elected officials are supposed to serve their constituents, not themselves.

Kennedy has an affable personality and a good sense of humor.

“I’ve seen my share of manure, but I’ve never seen the amount of manure piled on to people as Virginia Foxx has piled on to people of the 5 th District,” Kennedy told a gathering of Democrats on May 15. “So as a farmer, I know how to turn that into something useful rather than covering people’s eyes up and confusing the issue.”

I met Foxx two years ago after her debate with Roy Carter at a middle school in West Jefferson. Foxx made a number of interesting comments during the debate, including the following assertions: The US should withdraw all support for the United Nations; education should be the sole responsibility of state and local governments; and the war in Iraq would “take care of itself.”

Kennedy has challenged Foxx on her positions, especially her stand on the federal government’s role in education.

“My opponent thinks government has no place in education even though she profited from it completely, employed by it, had her health insurance paid by it, still wants to deny that to others,” Kennedy said during the 5 th District Democratic Convention in May.

Foxx voted against the healthcare reform package that Congress passed in March, but spent a significant part of her career working for universities in North Carolina and Maryland that received state and federal funding.

Foxx’s campaign has not responded to multiple interview requests by YES! Weekly. According to the Federal Election Commission website, more than a third of Foxx’s contributions last quarter came from political action committees. Of the more than $120,000 raised by Kennedy last quarter, only $1,300 came from PACs. Kennedy did get a little help from Blue America, a grassroots political action committee. The progressive PAC spent nearly $5,000 on local TV ads last month. Blue America decided to assist Kennedy after the group’s online poll named Foxx the “worst Republican” in Congress.

The pro-Kennedy TV ads ran locally on Comedy Central, CNN MSNBC and FOX and targeted the Winston-Salem suburbs, Blue America founder Howie Klein said.

Even actor Zach Galifianakis, the comedian from The Hangover and Due Date, has expressed his support for Kennedy’s campaign.

“Hi, NC,” Galifianakis wrote on his Facebook page earlier this week. “Just a reminder of who Virginia Foxx is. She is not cool and no relation to Redd Foxx. Vote Bill Kennedy.”

Galifianakis was born in the 5 th District — Wilkesboro to be exact — and his uncle, Nick Galifianakis, served as a congressman from North Carolina from 1967 to 1973.

Kennedy has focused his attention on Forsyth County in recent weeks. Foxx appeared at a fundraiser for Republican NC Senate candidate Nathan Jones in Winston-Salem last week, but has held few Forsyth events. The Forsyth County Democratic Party has effectively mobilized its members for the Kennedy campaign, but the humble farmer appears to be getting little support from the national party. Perhaps they believe that Foxx is the overwhelming favorite, and their resources could be better spent elsewhere.

Well, that all depends on voter turnout. Nearly every race on the ballot from Clerk of Court to US Senate will be determined by how many of us exercise our right to make our voice heard. At its essence, voting is a marvelous show of optimism, an affirmation that this thing called democracy truly works. And a true democracy can only be realized when every single person participates in this glorious process.