Frustated with the NC Senate runoff, and this smear campaign

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.


This is a fine piece of writing for a 19 year-old (per profile).

I've stayed clear of commenting on either candidate...except to voice displeasure with the negative campaigning and the sudden presence of people who are here for the sole purpose of pimping their candidate.

I'm trying to get a copy of the radio interview Ms. Marshall did this week on The Big Talker Morning Beat. I listen to the radio when traveling by car and I have to tell you I turned the interview off. I was embarrassed to be a Democrat...listening to Ms Marshall. My impression was that if she had been asked if she liked butter on her toast she would have launched into a scripted answer and somehow tried to put a political twist on it...if she ever got around to answering the original question. She couldn't seem to stop talking and it was the sos over and over again. Maybe I was having a bad hair day...

My criticism isn't an endorsement for her opponent. I simply was appalled at the "energizer bunny" answers and felt I had to say this.
If I can get a link to/copy of the interview (and I'm trying) I will post a link to it.

I still don't know who I'm going to vote for later this month. My feeling is neither candidate will ultimately be the Senator we need. Perhaps better than Burr...but that leaves a lot to be desired.

Stan Bozarth


I appreciate the input, this is one of my first forays into blogging. To be honest, I was worried that it was a bit too harsh. My gut reaction to the misrepresentations in this race was anger, and I wanted to defend the candidate I am supporting, especially when the opponent is a like-minded Democrat.

The reflexive of many candidates in contemporary politics does seem to be ignoring direct questions and reverting straight to scripted answers. This definitely goes beyond the NC Senate race and reflects on the media and the politicians of our era. I really like a fresh voice like that of Billy Kennedy, who is taking on Virginia "round up illegals with a dragnet" Foxx in the 5th District.

The WRAL debate was particularly infuriating because in many cases it perpetuated this negative campaigning, and allowed both candidates to voice their opinions on issues where they have largely similar stances. The moderators did not allow any discussion the one time there was a legitimate and striking policy difference between the candidates. When asked about their disagreements with the White House, Cal did not seem to listen to or respond to the question, while Elaine took a round-about explanation that led to a moment of candid speaking. She added her criticism of the surge and direction of the war in Afghanistan, but was allowed no chance to elaborate or to open up intelligent discourse with Cal on the issue.

Both revert frequently to their campaign scripts, but the difference is that one has had a career of hard-work, struggle, and success, and the other has carefully crafted a career to enter politics that makes him look like a cookie-cutter politician that in my eyes reminds me of an ambitious younger John Edwards (for whom I volunteered in 2007). Again, I hope I am not being too harsh, and I know that if the runoff turns against my favored candidate, I will drop the resentment I have built up for Cunningham's tactics, and support him or Elaine wholeheartedly against Burr.

And thank you also

for supporting Elaine. In this very tough year for democrats we need the best candidate to run against Bank Run Burr. Elaine is that candidate even though I am living on the North Carolina-Virginia boarder I am interested in this race.

I bet you are going to be someone that works hard to make her campaign successful.

People like you are the ones that are going to be leaders in our country going forward. Stay true to your beliefs and do not be misled because of political expediency. That is the best advice I can give you.

As an Independent

I'm posting to agree with the original poster about Cunningham. I didn't know anything about him before the race so my opinion of him is based strictly on this campaign.

I did not prefer him in the primary. I felt he was slow to commit to positions, waffled at first then only struck out to the left after pressure from Marshall being slightly to his left and Lewis being further to his left forced him to do so. I would fully expect him to move more to the right in the general. I don't like Blue Dogs, I think they make it harder to pass legislation in Washington, not easier. His campaign seemed all "bio" and "good hair" back then, and no substance or stands on issues.

But I see what the poster saw after the primary. Cunningham wanted this run-off, he went negative quickly and both the negativity and the cash drain of the run-off give Burr a double advantage. I really don't like him now. He doesn't seem like he will be a team player. If he's elected I can see him grandstanding and holding up a vote for exposure or personal advantage, just like he is doing now in the run-off. His advertising style still seems overly packaged. I'm not feeling that I can trust his current stances on the issues to be the same ones he will have after the election. Like many Independents, I am overly cynical, and that probably makes me overly sensitive to this sort of thing.

And since I am an Independent, I have no loyalty to voting for a Dem. strictly based on party (ducks). However, in this race I do not like Burr. I don't think Burr has done a good job, and pandering to the Tea Party crowd is a big turn off for me. Burr will not get my vote. But right now if Cunningham wins, I would hope for a third candidate as a protest vote. Maybe Cunningham is fine, and would put as much energy into serving NC if elected as he does into appearing to serve himself right now. But his advertising style and actions right now leave my even more jaded and cynical than usual.

//the cynical independent semi-lurker

DSCC Line is Tired

People freaking out about the "Washington insider" money Cal has raised during the primary are not putting any thought into the issue. All 3 major candidates were lobbying to get the support of the DSCC. Elaine wouldn't have refused the money, Ken wouldn't have refused the money. That is such a tired line.

I don't know if you remember but Ken went negative too when he was loosing. This is not an excuse for any negative mailers coming form Cal's campaign, but it is important to remember when putting Ken on a pedestal as being the progressive choice that he wasn't above going negative either. We all hate negative campaigning but it is a campaign strategy and everyone says they aren't going to do it until they do it. It's politics you've pretty much got to live with it for the time being.

Also I'm kind of going off on you, I'm sorry, I agree with a lot of what you said...but here I go again.

You and so many other people compare Cal Cunningham to John Edwards, it is a lame move to slide all of John Edward's failings onto someone who happens to have a similar haircut (a lot of people part their hair not all are unfaithful).

I definitely understand where you are coming from

It seems like you brought up three main issues and I want to kind of address all of them because I agree with them to some extent.

The Washington Insider line has been used incessantly. All of the candidates definitely wanted and would have accepted the help of the DSCC. The problem is that they came into a North Carolina race and tried to dictate who our candidate would be when there were two other strong viable candidates. Also, the washington insider line is really more of a code line to talk about special interest money in the way I have heard it used. Any candidate would receive money from special interests, but we do not want a Senator bought and paid for. I'm sorry for reiterating the tired line.

I'm not sure I saw instances when Ken Lewis went negative, if there are specific instances I would like to better understand the somewhat cynical view that just because you are losing negative campaigning is almost inevitable (maybe its my naivete and inexperience). I think our definitions of 'going negative' are different. In my commentary on Cal, I wanted to emphasize that he is lying and misrepresenting Elaine's positions, by scaring seniors into voting for him because of the social security non-issue as an example. A lot of people (and you may not be in this crowd) say it is negative campaigning to point out legitimate policy differences, refute their positions, and plug their own positions. This is a tactic of debate, but should not be considered negative campaigning.

The final thing you said rang true. I am sorry for saying Cal is similar to John Edwards. There is no reason to think he would be unfaithful or corrupt. My meaning was that Cal has a similar air of ambition about him, to say that I didn't need to bring in the Edwards affair. The difference this was meant to highlight is that Elaine does not have that same characteristic ambition in politicians, which makes her such a unique and exciting candidate to me.

From this comment:

In my commentary on Cal, I wanted to emphasize that he is lying and misrepresenting Elaine's positions, by scaring seniors into voting for him because of the social security non-issue as an example.

It appears you may have received the same e-mail I did, which included:

I'm writing to you today to say I am outraged by Cal Cunningham's untruthful attacks on Elaine Marshall's position on Social Security.

I'm in my 70s and was quite distressed when I got a phone call from a Cunningham staffer making these untrue claims about Elaine. Fortunately, since I knew better, I could challenge them on the spot, which I did. But they kept on saying it anyway!

I have never sent an email like this before, but after that phone call I received from Cunningham's campaign I knew I had to get involved and help Elaine.

I was already supporting Elaine Marshall for United States Senate, but that call validated that decision. Help her FIGHT BACK by chipping in $5 or more today!

Targeting senior citizens with lies to scare up support is just plain wrong.

Scaring seniors is not what I want from a U.S. Senator!

And here is what this is all about:

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall suggested raising the current retirement age of 67 to receive full Social Security benefits or the income cap on levying Social Security taxes should be examined to help develop an austere budget strategy.

"With an aging electorate, some hard choices are going to have to be made on some of these programs," Marshall said.

So, did she say this, or is the reporter lying?

Using the MSM's twisting of words

The only thing Elaine said was "...some hard choices are going to have to be made on some..."

The reporter typed:

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall suggested raising the current retirement age of 67 to receive full Social Security benefits or the income cap on levying Social Security taxes should be examined to help develop an austere budget strategy.

As has been noted in many places, Elaine was recapping the multitude of suggestions out there to "save" social security -- which is absolutely fine for the next 27 years according to the CBO, but that's another thread.

See. Politics was always this nasty. And the MSM has always been complicit.

Way to try to ensnare your opponent, and thumbs up fighting back with the truth of the matter.

Now, I suggest that Cal hates ponies and Elaine hates kittens and Burr is a meanie! Discuss.

The real story here is that NC's own Erskine Bowles is the one to watch as his commission tries to dismantle Social Security -- which is fiscally sound for at least 27 more years in the most secure bonds on Earth.

If Erskine and his pack of vultures want to strategically default on US Treasuries, let them default on the ones China holds, rather than the ones Social Security holds.

Still waiting on ANY local media outlet to cover this.


First let me say thank you

First let me say thank you for being so level headed throughout your posts are excellent.

My point about the DSCC still is true for Elaine now, you can not support a candidate because the DSCC didn't give her their support when she was lobbying for it. Elaine is not "bought and paid for" but she wanted to be so that is in my book at least not a reason to support Elaine over Cal for her inability to sway the DSCC. You can't have your cake and eat it too in a sense (maybe not the best analogy).

You probably didn't see an instance of Ken going negative because you don't listen to the radio stations that aired his negative ads. I'll post them later tonight when I have time. I think indeed you may be a little naive about negative campaigning. Like I said no one likes it but if Elaine was in the position Cal is in right now she would be going negative. No one (for the most part) is above negative campaigning. Cal's is silly, that is why I will not be volunteering for Cal anymore. His campaign said they would be relentlessly positive and they have not lived up to that. I am still voting for him but I am not throwing my efforts behind a candidate who made a serious effort to campaign positively and against Burr but has let me down a little recently. But I want to reiterate the point that everyone goes negative when they have to, the question is when to go negative and I think that Cal's campaign went negative too early against the wrong person but it certainly wasn't all that negative, I mean if Elaine goes up against Burr it will be 1000 times worse she has to be prepared for that, if she isn't she will loose harder than I think she will loose in the first place.

I may have just pissed some people off, but that is how I feel.

Finally are you saying that because Elaine isn't ambitious she is a good candidate? She is ambitious she is running for the US Senate, she ran for Secretary of State, she is super ambitious that is part of what makes her a good candidate.


Let's be honest about this and lets get to the point. I'm feeling a bit testy after that ridiculous debate.

The DSCC never considered who would be the stronger candidate. They picked Cal and placed their bet before the race even began. They came into North Carolina and tried to choose our candidate for us. Their help may be appreciated, but during the primary, why should they be allowed to pick who represents us? There is one simple answer, and that is they shouldn't.

Cal is not being "silly" he is unmercifully and brutally attacking Elaine personally and her integrity. I am planning on posting another blog, hopefully shorter documenting this latest offensive accusation.

Now time to just be honest. Cal is young, he has tailored his entire career (even in the military) to become a politician. He sees the Senate as a stepping stone (like John Edwards). Personally, that is not what I'm looking for in a Senate candidate right now. I don't want a candidate who is going to pander to moderates or use offensive or abusive tactics. I don't want a candidate who sees my vote as a stepping stone to further his own political career. I want a candidate who has proven that they will stand up for what they believe in. A candidate that is going to the Senate to fight for what I want as a citizen of North Carolina and of the United States. That candidate is Elaine.

They absolutely did consider

They absolutely did consider who would be the stronger candidate for what other reason would they pick one over the other? They don't choose willy nilly. I mean we are talking about big money here why waste it?

Speaking of offensive "tailored his entire career (even in the military) to become a politician." These are all your assumptions about Cal, have you ever even spoken to him? And yes Cal is young so what, some of the best and most innovative ideas come from young people. Your comment would be like me saying 'Elaine is old and has moved from one political position to the next and now she just wants to step up to the Senate like it is owed to her.' Which I would rightly be attacked for. So what if he is young. And again with the John Edwards BS give me a break.

I think what you want is a candidate who can't win. This race isn't going to be won by progressives, we live in North Carolina for christs sake so if Cal is reaching out to moderates it certainly isn't in my book considered pandering. Cal is a serious candidate for a serious race ahead for whomever wins this (frustrating) runoff he has worked his ass off even before the primary began and he will continue to work his ass off in the general. He isn't afraid to debate whomever whenever and he is our best bet we have at beating Burr, and progressive to boot. So you can gripe about the DSCC and about negative campaigning and Edwards like youth, but in the end we are faced with two candidates who are both equally qualified and nearly indistinguishable policy wise, and you've got to pick one, and I find your reasons for not choosing Cal kind of knee jerk at best.


I skipped the debate (frustrating) and did errands instead, pretty happy with that choice.

You can absolutely look at ambition as a good thing

It is becoming more and more difficult to be completely reasonable and level-headed. I'm sorry about Ken's ad, but on a scale of harsh criticism to outrageous accusations, Ken's ad does not even deserve to be on the same scale as Cal's mailers and ads.

I can see how you can view ambition as a good thing, and I am sorry if it seemed like I was belittling Cal's service to our nation. I have met Cal, and have family friends that know him well, but that does not mean I have to like him, or think that he isn't some kind of cookie-cutter politician. I am sure the DSCC considered many factors in choosing who to endorse, but the fact remains that they recruited Cal to represent us, I saw no indication that they gave Ken or Elaine a chance.

I am not griping or complaining. This legitimately bothers me. While they are similar in many of their positions (excluding Afghanistan), their record is NOT the same. Cal was an unaccomplished one term state Senator, also in one term Elaine was praised as the best freshman legislator. He later served as a corporate lawyer defending large corporations, she was a lawyer defending women in domestic violence cases. He served valiantly in Iraq, he did a good job I'm sure in prosecuting private contractors from his office in the green zone. At the same time she has spent nearly 14 years as Secretary of State, fighting for the people of North Carolina and strictly regulating lobbyists. Their records are not the same. Their experience does not compare. You can look at my posts as griping about two non-issues, or you can look at the facts that Cal is not the best candidate, and he is actively promoting disunity in the party.

I still don't understand why

I still don't understand why you supported Ken over Elaine in the first place then taking into account all of the reasons you support Elaine over Cal. Also you really aren't sorry at all that you were taking swipes at Cal's military service because you wouldn't have referred to his service so sarcastically in the next paragraph. And corporate lawyer, really what the heck is Ken then a "business lawyer"?

As far as negative campaigning goes Ken's was an untruth but not all that harsh, but like Cal says if Elaine thinks what his campaign is throwing at her right now is something to whine about she has no idea what she is in for. But I think she does she is just making a big show out of the negative ads from the Cal campaign, she knows they don't amount to much but she is having a pity party and its politics on both sides here same as it has ever been.

I understand how Elaine is a good elected official, and I wouldn't mind her being our next Senator not one bit, but I feel like when people try to explain why Cal is a bad choice they are just as a group unconvincing. I've heard everything from "I can't tell you how much we owe Elaine Marshall" to something along the lines of she is the best candidate on women's issues. Elaine just hasn't shown me how she is anything more than a good elected official, I'm not in the business of voting for good elected officials who want to be elected to another office, I'm in the business of voting for people who have the ability to beat the conservatives and Cal has exactly the type of drive and ambition that we need in a candidate against Burr. He is way better on military issues which is huge in a race against Burr, and other than that our candidates are very very similar.

I know very few if any Democrats who don't like Cal personally,

but that doesn't mean they have to choose him to be their candidate. I think he's a hell of an impressive guy, but I think there are some times in politics when one candidate has paid the dues, and where that candidate deserves the respect and support of the Party she has dedicated her career to. It's really that simple. I'm usually for changing the guard. I think Elaine's personal characteristics and strengths as a politician make her very much a change of the guard in Washington. She's not something they;'ve seen much of, and I think it would be great to see her up there.

So, you can tell I'm an Elaine supporter. I also like Cal Cunningham a lot. His wife and I went to law school together and I think the world of him. If he should prevail on Tuesday, I'll be first in line to back him against Bank Run Burr.

But I committed to Elaine Marshall a long time ago, and when she got in the race, I stuck with her. She's as good a public servant as this state has ever had and she has, quite admirably, kept a common touch which the Senate needs desperately. Why wouldn't you support a good public servant who has served for a long time in one position and wishes to take her talents and strengths to a new office?

But anyone who denigrates Cal's military service will not find me to be a supporter of their position or their argument. And if I know Elaine, and I think I do, she probably wouldn't even care to have that person's vote.

"Man is free at the moment he wishes to be." -Voltaire


Well I guess my reply to that would be that she is supposed to be a good public servant after all she ran saying she would be a good public servant I don't think that is any reason to support her in this particular race. She is a great person and a great Secretary of State. However that alone doesn't get her my vote. I guess that is just how I think about these things, she should be a good public because she said she would be and she is. I just need that little extra I guess.

Now I feel like kind of an

asshole. I have been conditioned from an early age to self-evaluate when I say something stupid or offensive like I did earlier in the discussion. I'm sorry about my offensive comments that belittled or denigrated Mr. Cunningham's service. I think I am going to step back from posting or responding to these blogs for a while to consider how I can deal with my anger, and not take it out on others in the future with mean and insensitive comments. I am frustrated that my arguments have been largely ignored and belittled by the other blogger, Mr. Scharfenberg. I am trying very hard to be genuine and express the guilt that I feel. If Mr. Cunningham has been alerted to this blog by his staffer, I want to take this chance to apologize to him as well for my rudeness. I am going to seriously reevaluate my comportment on these blogs and try to, in the future, refrain from letting my anger and frustration get the best of me. I hope Mr. Cunningham thinks in the same way and self-reflects about the truly mean misrepresentations and lies he has spread about Elaine. Again, I feel like an a**hole and I will do my best to be better in the future.

Let me take a moment to thank you

I too often find myself saying things I later regret. This is a good and honest apology - and a powerful example to others.

It seems to be a natural human instinct to dig in when challenged in order to prove that we are "right" about whatever we happen to be arguing at the time. You've demonstrated the kind of self-reflection that I believe is THE defining quality of progressives, a quality I see largely missing among today's conservative voices, where being right is all that seems to matter.

Cal and Elaine are both excellent people, both working like crazy to prevail in a system that feels twisted and corrupted. But don't let your own sense of having made a misstep deter you from staying engaged. I've found that the shortest path to clarity and (at least the illusion of) wisdom is to continue putting my thoughts into words and my words into the public arena.


I agree

I completely agree with James here. I didn't think for an instant that you were an asshole, I think that your posts, as are many many others on this site, were well thought out and you had a lot of great points about this race.

I sincerely never meant for my posts to be belittling or to give the impression that I was ignoring your arguments. I think that I may have done that in my tone of many of the comments, that was not my intention. That is not who I want to come off as on this blog, any blog or in person.

I think basically we only disagree on one main thing and that is the negative campaigning that is happening right now. Believe me I think a ton of people agree with you in this respect, a ton. I'm not exactly one of them but like I conceded earlier his negative campaigning has made me less likely to GOTV for his campaign in the runoff, I really wish it had stayed completely positive.

Also kind of like James said who hasn't made little mistakes when blogging or responding to blogs, it is the easiest thing in the world to do what isn't so easy is to admit when you've made a miscalculation. I don't want to seem like some holier than thou jerk because I certainly am not, but I truly loved these postings and I hope I didn't come off as a jerk in the end. I definitely don't think you should take a step back from posting on this site, you've got some really well written posts that are a pleasure to read and I'd like to know your opinion on other topics.

Andrew R. Scharfenberg

Hoping Cal will add his UAFA stance to his website

I know its pretty late in the game for website updates, but he took a stand in support of UAFA (to allow bi-national gay couples the right to be together) on a Pam's House Blend liveblog.

It'd mean a lot to see a sentence about that added to their website before election.