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Senate candidate: I’m gay; now can we talk about the issues?

by Kirk Ross

The question is no long whether the state can deal with a gay candidate running for high federal office. Jim Neal, who announced his run for Senate last month, spent an hour last weekend on BlueNC, answering questions about policy, politics and the Senate race. He also plainly and directly answered the question about whether he was gay. His reply went like this:

“Subject line: Gay

Text: I am indeed. No secret and no big deal to me – I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think otherwise….”

So, now the question is how will this state deal with an openly gay individual running for high federal office. Neal, obviously, is not going to dwell on it and intends to focus on what he would do if elected and on Elizabeth Dole’s record as a defender of an administration with an approval rating that rivals Nixon’s during the last days of Watergate.

Besides, it’s apparent that he’s already “dealt” with the fact that he’s gay. And, unlike other figures in the state’s history, he’s candid and comfortable. Now, it’s everyone else’s turn and what remains to be seen is how the rest of the Democratic Party responds, how the press treats the news and how the mudslingers on the right deal with someone who is not trying to dodge things.

Conventional wisdom has GOP strategists licking their chops. Vernon Robinson, who had his lunch consumed regularly in the last election, kept trying to link Rep. Brad Miller to some kind of Bay Area left-wing gay conspiracy (I’m still trying to follow the dude’s logic on that). And in the twilight of his years, even Jesse Helms, who made any contribution or endorsement of his opponent from the gay community political kryptonite, has acknowledged the damage of his demonizations. Nevertheless, look for prominent Republicans to offer Democrats friendly advice on the subject for the next year.

On the Democratic side, there are stories of some campaigns panicked about the effect on the rest of the ticket in eastern North Carolina. There’s also a long-running split among the African-American clergy over gay issues that has been exploited in the past and is likely to be again. Meanwhile, Neal’s straightforward acknowledgement has been a breath of fresh air for many Democrats in and out of North Carolina. For some, it’s an example of much-needed courage. And the netroots, as one might guess, are a bit blown away that such a story would emanate from the South.

And the press? Well, as of this writing, the printed and broadcast press have not jumped all over the story, but you can bet the pollsters are redrafting a few question and we’ll see stories on the results soon.

So a conversation has started – one that we all ought to have had years ago. There’s also a higher level of transparency and candor in a business ruled for too long by sleight of hand and coded linguistics.

Deal with it.

Kirk Ross is the editor and co-founder of The Carrboro Citizen and writes about politics and public policy at ExileOnJonesStreet.com.

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