On eve of Senate runoff, the issue for N.C. Dems is electability

Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham are heading into Tuesday's runoff with nothing between them -- not even policy

Topics: 2010 Elections,

On eve of Senate runoff, the issue for N.C. Dems is electabilityNorth Carolina Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Elaine Marshall, left, and Cal Cunningham greet each other prior to a televised debate at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, June 10, 2010. Anchors Pam Saulsby, center, and David Crabtree, left, are moderators. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (Credit: Gerry Broome)

Insofar as people are talking about North Carolina Democrats, the subject tends to be Rep. Bob Etheridge and his baffling, bleary-eyed assault on two college journalists. Almost no one, it seems, is talking about Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham, who will face off in a Tuesday runoff for the right to oppose Republican Sen. Richard Burr this fall.

On the surface, the Democratic race should be attracting attention, with Burr — despite the national climate of 2010 and the conservative bent of North Carolina — struggling in the polls. But funding for Cunningham and Marshall is limited and turnout is expected to be low.

“It’s truly a tossup,” said Dean Debnam, the CEO of Public Polling Policy, a North Carolina-based polling firm. “Neither candidate has enough money to communicate to a state the size of North Carolina,” he added.

Cunningham, a clean-cut 36-year-old who was a member of the state Senate from 2001 to 2003, has military credentials (he’s a captain in the Army reserves with two tours of duty under his belt) and a warm, dimple-framed smile in his arsenal — both factors in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s aggressive recruitment of him.

The more experienced Marshall, 64, is the first woman to be elected North Carolina’s secretary of state — an office she first won in 1996 — and is marginally better known than her opponent.

In the three-way May 4 preliminary, Marshall finished first, but was 4 percent shy of the 40 percent of votes needed to avoid a runoff. The candidates are heading into the runoff equal in the polls, but to call what they share “popularity” would be an overstatement. Less than 15 percent of registered voters came out to vote on May 4, and not many more are anticipated to weigh in for the runoff.

Issues aren’t driving the Democratic race. Both candidates are running on broadly centrist platforms; both vow to stand up to Wall Street special interests; both vow to address the state’s high rate of unemployment.

The real debate is over electability: whether an attractive young Iraq war vet or a seasoned female politician will fare better against Burr.

The DSCC is putting its money on Cunningham. Federal Election Commission reports show he has received $79,980 from the DSCC for this campaign (a considerable portion of his meager $1.2 million campaign donations). Meanwhile MoveOn and Ken Lewis (the third candidate in the preliminary) have come out in support of Marshall. Of course, the combined war chests of both campaigns are just one-fifth of the approximately $10 million Burr has.

“Neither have strong internal organizations; neither have been vessels for major funding; neither has enough money for TV commercials or grass-roots organizing,” said Ferrel Guillory, the director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an expert on Southern politics.

Still, Guillory thinks the race could get interesting after the Democratic nomination is settled.

“This primary is not totally indicative of a candidate’s ability to catch a wave come fall,” he noted.

This year, of course, the Democrats will not have the advantages of the money and energy of the Obama campaign to help usher their candidates into the Senate. And the national mood seems to be working against Democrats in a way it wasn’t in the last two cycles.  But Guillory maintains that the Tar Heel State is not necessarily out of the Democrats’ reach this year.

“I think Burr would be willing to run an aggressive attack campaign — but he’s not come across as particularly high flying,” he said. “So if money does flow to whoever wins this runoff, there’s the potential for turning this race into a classic Republican vs. Democrat debate.”

Right now, the DSCC is happy to feed that kind of talk. “This election, North Carolina voters will have a clear choice between a Democrat who wants to move our economy forward and take on the special interests, and Burr, who stands up for Wall Street and wants to return to the very policies that brought our economy to its knees,” said Deirdre Murphy, the DSCC national press secretary. But whether the DSCC backs up that talk with money this fall remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Burr’s office — not wanting to comment on the primary candidates — promised to focus on jobs as the No. 1 issue in their campaign.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>