Political analysts and most people running for the U.S. Senate (the ones who don't want to repeal health care reform, at least), agree that this year's race centers on jobs, jobs, jobs. Ken Lewis leads on this issue, and that's why we're endorsing him in this election. He provides two decades of experience as a community development and entrepreneurial lawyer, creating jobs that created other jobs.
He speaks from experience, clearly and directly, in his plans to create incentives and an educational structure that supports social entrepreneurship, nonprofits and business creation. We've seen the results in our backyard. Lewis's served on the board of the Center for Community Self-Help in Durham, a lender and credit union that creates business and housing opportunities for low-income residents.
He helped link public housing residents with summer jobs while working with the Raleigh Housing Authority. It's no surprise that Triangle leaders like Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Bell's predecessor and former state senator Wib Gulley and former Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy are backing Lewis.
Analysts also agree that in a midyear election, particularly one in which polls show mistrust and dissatisfaction with Capitol Hill, candidates will need to run on an anti-Washington platform. Lewis, a Democratic fundraiser making his first political run, sounds the least like a politician, and that bodes well.
A Harvard Law graduate and a grandson of sharecroppers, Lewis is vying to be the first black senator elected nationwide since Obama won his Illinois senate seat and the first in the South since 1875.
Two other Democrats rise immediately to the top of the pile: former state Sen. Cal Cunningham and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
The contrasts between the three viable hopefuls—Cunningham, Lewis and Marshall—are not nearly as stark as in 2008, when a clear progressive, Jim Neal, battled the moderate Kay Hagan.
On balance, their platforms are strikingly similar and worthy of our endorsement, focusing on the economy, jobs, green energy, financial reform and a public option for health care. All want to end Don't Ask Don't Tell and reform No Child Left Behind.
Marshall has been the most critical of the war in Afghanistan, opposing the troop surge. Lewis supports the increase, calling it "the least bad among several very bad policy options left to President Obama by the Bush administration," but wants to set a drawdown date. Cunningham is in favor of Obama's strategy and supports "turning over the security mission as soon as possible."
Cunningham is the choice of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which should come as no surprise. Burr is being targeted as the Republican most likely to lose his seat, and the Democrats see a youthful, polished former state legislator who served in Iraq as a military prosecutor and hope he can sway military voters in traditional Burr territory.
His "Bronze Star beats bank-run Burr" message is pushed by a Washington campaign team, and of the three, he has the best chops for a campaign run in sound bites and on television. While we can get behind most of his planks and appreciate the leadership he showed in the military, he doesn't provide the same authenticity as Lewis.
We would be comfortable supporting Cunningham in this primary, even despite his well-worn catch phrases, if election politics were our primary concern. We agree that his deployment and record matches up nicely against Burr, but Cunningham has spent his time driving home that point instead of distinguishing himself from his primary opponents in other ways.
Marshall will always hold a place in North Carolina history as a trailblazer on the campaign trail. She's the first woman to win statewide office, which she accomplished in 1996 by defeating NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
She is the safest bet in this race. She has the most political experience and a proven track record, but after losing a 2002 Senate bid and serving as secretary of state for 14 years, Marshall has lost some luster. Despite having better name recognition than her competitors, Marshall is still relatively unknown among voters. She doesn't have the same kind of upward mobility and outward zeal as either Lewis or Cunningham, both of whom are more likely to galvanize the voters it will take to send a second Democrat to Washington.
Susan Harris and Ann Worthy have been mum for much of the campaign, our questionnaire included. Marcus Williams, a self-described "eclectic pragmatist with progressive fire," is by now a perpetual candidate, having lost a bid for governor in 1992 and for this office in 2008.
Sen. Richard Burr will win the Republican primary. There's no doubt of that. In his 16 years in Congress (the first 10 in the House), Burr's mastered the basics of Republican politics: Support big business, and big business will support you with big campaign contributions. No surprise, then, that Burr entered this election year with more than $4 million in his campaign treasury and has since pushed that figure to $5 million. His voting record is reliably pro-business, with a special fondness for the pharmaceutical industry and the military-industrial complex. He gets low grades from environmental groups and organizations like the Children's Defense Fund, which advocate for the less well-off.
He is, in short, a very orthodox, if unoriginal conservative Republican—a chip off the old bloc of obstructionist Republicans who've succeeded in making the Senate a national disgrace; and Burr was only telling the truth recently when he said that he wasn't about to let any of his three primary opponents get to the right of him.
Still, even conservative Republican voters should pause before rewarding Burr with their votes after what he pulled in the Senate last month.
Livid that their campaign of disinformation and serial filibusters failed to stop the health care reforms from becoming law, Burr and his fellow Republicans decided to invoke a hoary Senate rule and prevent all committees from meeting after 2 p.m. Burr personally blocked a scheduled Armed Services Committee hearing, despite the fact that military commanders had come from as far away as South Korea to testify.
Worse, when questioned about his temper tantrum, Burr tried to pin the blame on another senator who wanted the hearing blocked but wasn't present to block it. Oh.
Burr's primary opponents, though, don't inspire much confidence. Larry Linney, a former state legislator, was disbarred after being convicted of embezzling clients' funds. Brad Jones, who owns an electronics store in Lake Toxaway, says he's "more of a Jesse Helms conservative" than Burr.
That leaves Eddie Burks a first-term Asheboro councilman running on a "fair tax" platform. That means he'd abolish the income tax (repealing the 16th Amendment) and replace it with a national sales tax. Burks is an ex-radio personality who now runs a marketing business. We're not endorsing him, but we do suggest him as an alternative for voters who think Burr needs a slap.
We recommend Renee Ellmers as the best of a weak trio seeking to take the Republican fight to Democratic incumbent Bob Etheridge.
Ellmers is a registered nurse and co-owner, with her doctor husband, of the Trinity Wound Care Center in Dunn. She has the full arsenal of right-wing positions, from repealing health care reform to eliminating capital gains taxes. The First Amendment, in her view, is not about erecting a wall between religion and government. It's about preventing government from keeping religion out of government.
If Ellmers is unappealing, however, her two primary opponents are worse. Frank Deatrich, a retired transplant from Wyoming to Franklin County, is a genial right-winger who would cut taxes by 50 percent ("at least") but expand the military and get out of the U.N., all the while quoting Scripture. Todd Gailas is a used-car dealer from Morrisville.
The 2nd district, which includes part of Raleigh and southern Wake County, is a swing district that could go Republican if 2010 turns out to be a big year for the GOP. Ellmers was the Dunn Chamber of Commerce "woman of the year" for 2008. It's not the most compelling credential for a member of Congress. But it's the best this group has to offer.
As in District 2, the pickings are slim in this Republican primary, which will produce a challenger to veteran Democratic Congressman David Price. William (B.J.) Lawson, who lost to Price two years ago, is still a diehard Libertarian who'd take the country back to the 19th century if he could. Hard to believe, but he's the clear choice for any sentient Republican given the three alternatives.
Sure, Lawson would abolish the Federal Reserve ("the greatest confidence game ever," he says about the American dollar) and thinks that if you want to improve the health care system, "be a doctor." He was a doctor, with an M.D. from Duke, before starting a medical software company in Durham. At 36, he's certain he knows everything about everything, and what it all adds up to is: government = bad, free enterprise = good.
Still, Lawson is on the right track about immigration, opposing any roundup of illegals and calling for the repeal of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement is killing agriculture in Central America, he rightly says). He's also correct that the American military is overextended around the world. Exorbitant spending on national security, he says, is one reason—Social Security and Medicare are two others—why the country is on a slippery slope to insolvency.
The only viable alternative to Lawson is Frank Roche, a former Wall Street currency trader who is between engagements, as they say, and taking a shot at politics. Roche is smart enough to pick Lawson's Libertarian views apart but not smart enough to avoid saying things like "We rule the world" about America's military. He's Mr. Tough Talker. Talk like his could get the country in real trouble.
David Burnett is a soft-spoken Cary business owner (Dave's Roof Repair) who likes military spending but otherwise wouldn't hesitate to shut down the federal government, Newt Gingrich-style, he says. His political activism, though, seems to begin and end with the abortion issue. He's anti-choice.
George Hutchins' views on race and other issues are so extreme that a committee of the state Republican Party urged him not to run and issued a statement disassociating the party from his candidacy.
Yes, there's a pattern developing here. As in the other two congressional districts in the Triangle, the Republican candidates in District 13 (incumbent: Democrat Brad Miller) are tightly bunched as to which is the most right-wing right-winger. Truthfully, it's very hard to tell. Which is why we're recommending—and it's hard to believe we're doing it—a vote for our own homegrown right-winger, Raleigh publisher Bernie Reeves.
That's right, Bernie Reeves, of table-toppling-tirades fame. The man who founded the Spectator, the Indy's now-defunct rival for weekly readership, in 1978, and went on to start a couple of business journals and then, 10 years ago, Raleigh Metro Magazine. The man whose acid conservatism never failed to belie the name of his column, "My Usual Charming Self."
Oh, yes, he's a piece of work. But he's our (the Triangle's) piece of work, a native who early on recognized the value of the arts to a thriving community and—his ideological diatribes aside—based the Spectator on that idea.
Our preference for Reeves over Dan Huffman, a Hickory native and N.C. State grad, stems from Huffman's view that the states should be able to ignore (nullify) a federal law if they don't like it: He thinks North Carolina should nullify health care reform, for example. Reeves doesn't like health care reform, either. But nullification, as Reeves reminded Huffman in a debate, went out with slavery when the Civil War amendments were added to the Constitution.
Bill Randall, a retired Navy veteran, ran for local office in Wisconsin six years ago. Shortly after moving to the Triangle, he tried to be elected state Republican Party chairman in 2009. Now he's running for Congress. A rare black Republican, he works hard to convince voters he's the real conservative in the race.
Frank Hurley, a retired aerospace engineer, is a Christian conservative who's as right-wing as anyone, except he would increase NASA's budget. He once worked in Congress for conservative icon Jack Kemp and held a policy position at NASA in the Reagan administration.