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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Richard Burr vs Cal Cunningham: Top N.C. Dems Want Cal

Top N.C. Democratic Senators Tilting Toward Cal Cunningham

Some of the leading Democratic senators are wading into next Tuesday's Democratic Senate primary in North Carolina, hoping to hoist Cal Cunningham into the fall election against Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

Cunningham, a former state senator and Iraq war veteran, was recruited into the race by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has provided him with advice and financial help. This has given an advantage to Cunningham, who is in a competitive primary with Democrats Elaine Marshall and Ken Lewis.

"It is unusual, but it happens," Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, assistant Senate majority leader, said in an interview while in Raleigh over the weekend.

"The decision was made that Cunningham had the best chance to succeed," Durbin said. "The voters in North Carolina have the final word in this. They will decide in the primary and in November. Of course, we will stand behind the party's choice, whoever that might be."

The backing of the national party is one reason Cunningham has the fundraising lead in the Democratic primary. The lead has enabled Cunningham to be the only Democrat to air TV commercials during the past two weeks. Marshall, the secretary of state, unveiled a TV ad Monday, but it has yet to be broadcast. Lewis, a Chapel Hill attorney, began broadcasting his first radio ad this week.

As of April 14, Cunningham had raised $730,200 in the campaign, compared to $514,541 for Marshall, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Lewis had raised about $456,000 by April 14, his campaign estimated.

All that pales compared to Burr, who has raised $6 million, and who has been running TV commercials longer than any of the Democrats.

The Democratic senators, through their leadership political action committees, gave Cunningham at least $36,000 in contributions during the first quarter, according to FEC reports.

The Lexington attorney received money from the leadership PACs of Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska ($2,000), Thomas Carper of Delaware ($5,000), Carl Levin of Michigan ($2,000), Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico ($2,000), Robert Menendez of New Jersey ($5,000), Kent Conrad of North Dakota ($5,000), Mark Warner of Virginia ($5,000) and Durbin ($5,000).

The senatorial committee's support has likely helped Cunningham get the backing from other interest groups with close Democratic ties such as the N.C. Association of Educators, the Sierra Club and the Teamsters.

"The word gets out that candidate x is the committee's preferred nominee," said Jennifer Duffy, senior political editor of the Washington-based Cook Political Report. "That does help line up support."

Cunningham's opponents have sought to make the national party's backing a negative. Both Marshall and Lewis have portrayed Cunningham as the candidate of Washington interests.

"They obviously don't understand North Carolina very well, do they?" said Thomas Mills, Marshall's campaign spokesman.

The backing of national parties in Senate races has become increasingly important in recent years. The Democratic Senatorial Committee recruited Kay Hagan into the 2008 Senate contest and pumped $10 million into the race, helping her defeat Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Burr was recruited to run for the Senate in 2004 by Karl Rove, then the chief political adviser for President George W. Bush, who was looking for a challenger to then-Democratic Sen. John Edwards. Rove also recruited Dole into the Senate race in 2002 to fill the seat of the retiring Sen. Jesse Helms.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, Wikipedia, Youtube, Google Maps

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