Over the past weeks, there has been little attention paid to the runoff election in North Carolina that will determine the candidate to take on Sen. Richard Burr in November. This race was confusing at first, featuring a DSCC backed candidate, Cunningham, the popular Secretary of State, Elaine Marshall, and a progressive lawyer, who worked on the Obama campaign, Ken Lewis. The primary went off with an annoying hitch; no candidate reached the required 40% threshold to prevent a runoff election. Though the runoff was not mandatory, Cunningham who came in second, a full 9 points behind Elaine Marshall demanded a runoff election to determine the candidate. This runoff has been met with frustration by many Democrats in North Carolina in part because it is placing an enormous amount of pressure on the Board of Elections, which is already miserably low on funding. Ken Lewis, the choice of many strong liberal and progressive Democrats, like myself, lost the election in third place with 17% of the vote. He did not wait long before endorsing Elaine, the next progressive choice, and the farthest removed from the Washington establishment that kept Blanche Lincoln around and enabled her to continue to fight for the people of…the oil and gas industry.
There seems to be a pervading sense of disappointment, and frustration after the Arkansas primary runoff. The race in North Carolina may be a second chance for putting a truly progressive and genuine candidate on the ballot. Howie Klein whose blog was posted on crooksandliars described the race impeccably as a race between Elaine, a “progressive champion” and Cal, an “ambitious empty suit” with the backing and influence of Bob Menendez.
The race has certainly not turned rosy in this runoff, and the mudslinging has come from one side of this competition. The DSCC backed candidate has turned on smear tactics that are working to suppress voter turnout in the runoff because Elaine has greater voter recognition, and stronger backing among consistent voters at the grassroots of North Carolina politics.
His tactics have included misrepresentations and downright lies about Elaine’s policy positions, including assertions that she supported raising the social security benefits age, that she was somehow against new environmental protections, and that she supported offshore drilling. All of these claims are groundless. He has not only spread these misrepresentations through campaign lit and public speeches, but has fed the local media news stories about these issues, as many of these reporters shamelessly report on any scandalous or potentially controversial tip.
By far the worst of this Cunningham/media relationship has been assertions about Marshall taking campaign contributions from lobbyists. Cal’s campaign asserted, baselessly, that Elaine had received funds from lobbyists, which was illegal because her office as the Secretary of State regulates those lobbyists. As a lawyer Cunningham should have realized that there were no legal questions involved with her campaign funds before releasing the story, but as usual his campaign sought a divisive story that would turn voters off to Marshall. They chose the wrong story.
It turns out Elaine Marshall had received $2,500 from lobbyists, which made up less than .5% of her campaign funds. The funds were received from around 3 lobbyists who had been personal friends of Elaine for over 20 years, and represented menacing special interests, like protecting women from domestic violence. This issue is still near and dear to Elaine’s heart, as she was an attorney who defended women in abuse cases before becoming a State Senator.
Cunningham and the media decided to ignore these facts, and in the WRAL televised debate brought this up as an issue. Elaine gave him exactly what he deserved, responding that she would give back the $2,500 if he would give up the more than $150,000 he received from lobbyists, special interests, and Washington insiders. Cal went on to point out that he has never had to regulate these lobbyists and interests, seeing as he has never held statewide office. The disappointment with Cunningham’s choices and tactics is clear now, after he has fabricated potentially damaging issues that will, inevitably, hurt Democrats in the general.
The race is entering it’s last 12 days, and voter turnout is expected to be low, but as a candidate who is the second highest vote-getter in state history and a symbol of genuine caring for the working class families of North Carolina, Elaine Marshall can and should win this runoff and go on to take back the NC Senate seat from a Republican who rode in on Bush’s coattails.
The netroots mobilized beyond the wildest dreams of many to support the Halter campaign, not only by raising obscene amounts of money, but by making the race a show of the power of Democrats working for progress in Congress. Instead of succumbing to the strong arms of the DSCC, now could be a chance to take back a different seat, for a different candidate. One that is equally, if not more committed to fighting for regular people and progressive values, but possesses none of the typical political ambition.
The mourning time has ended, and the time has come to marshal support for another candidate, who not only needs money, but also could use attention and vocal support from the netroots.
If there is any Senate candidate who you are going to fight for, tooth and nail, please, make it Elaine.