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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cal Cunningham vs Elaine Marshall: Debates & Dirty Politics (Videos)

Big Blitz Brewing For North Carolina Voters

Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham on Wednesday began a 48-day dash for the Democratic Senate nomination, amid indications that the runoff will turn into something rougher than the polite debating society that marked the first primary.

Marshall, the secretary of the state, made one last effort to persuade Cunningham to forgo a runoff, saying she thought pressure was building among Democrats for him to leave the field.

"I hope he will put the best interests of the party and the best interests of the people front and foremost rather than his own personal ambitions," Marshall said in an interview at her campaign headquarters in the warehouse district of downtown Raleigh.

She was too late.

Cunningham filed the papers calling for a runoff early Wednesday morning with the N.C. State Board of Elections in Raleigh.

Cunningham, a Lexington lawyer and Iraq war veteran, said that his campaign had gained momentum in recent weeks, and that he could catch Marshall by the June 22 runoff.

"She has been campaigning across North Carolina for over 14 years," Cunningham said at a campaign appearance in front of the Busy Bee Cafe, where he touted his efforts on behalf of small businesses.

"She was the known quantity in this campaign," Cunningham said. "Over two-thirds of voters could not choose her yesterday."

Cunningham dismissed Marshall's call for unity, throwing back her own comments she made when she unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the Senate in 2002.

His campaign provided an article from Congressional Quarterly quoting Marshall saying, "from the party standpoint, to have a candidate where more people have voted against them than for them does not bode for success."

Marshall led Tuesday's primary with 36 percent of the vote, short of the 40 percent she needed to clinch the nomination. Cunningham finished second in the six-person field with 27 percent.

Ken Lewis is courted

Both candidates and their supporters have contacted Chapel Hill's Ken Lewis, the third-place finisher. But Lewis said he was not ready to endorse.

"I've become very popular," Lewis quipped.

Marshall, the four-term secretary of the state, benefited from an extensive grass-roots organization and her previous statewide runs. Cunningham, recruited to run by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was better financed and was the only candidate to have a significant TV presence.

Tuesday's Democratic primary turnout was 15 percent, the lowest in recent years. It played to Marshall's grassroots support. Many of those voters were among the most loyal Democratic voters, including older white women. Judging by past runoffs, the turnout for the June 22 runoff was likely to drop as low as 5 percent.

There were 425,709 people who voted in the Democratic Senate primary on Tuesday. Democratic strategists were guessing the number could drop to 150,000 for the runoff.

Such low turnouts could help Marshall, who has spent years on the chicken dinner circuit.

"Of the 155,000 people who voted for her, she probably knew every one of those people by name and most of them are likely to vote again," said Gary Pearce, a veteran Democratic strategist in Raleigh, who is not involved in either campaign.

Pearce said he would have advised Cunningham not to seek a runoff if he had been asked.

"I think it's a very difficult path to victory," Pearce said of Cunningham.

Marshall carried 74 counties. Cunningham carried 21, Lewis carried four and Marcus Williams carried one.

Cunningham said he had more room to grow than Marshall, who is already known among Democratic voters. Cunningham said he still believes he would be the stronger candidate against Republican Sen. Richard Burr in the fall.

TV debate possible

Cunningham said he had agreed to a televised debate proposed by WRAL-TV a week before the runoff. Marshall said she would consider it.

Both candidates suggested the race could get rougher now that it has narrowed to two candidates.

"Once you get down to a two-person race it sometimes becomes a little more hard-edged," Marshall said. "But we are going to be very positive. We are going to show distinctions. We are going to campaign for the best interests of North Carolina."

Cunningham said state voters care about the issues. "There will be places where Secretary Marshall and I disagree. I hold her in very high regard. Where we disagree, I will make sure voters understand the differences."

Cunningham, Marshall Will Debate Twice On TV

There will likely be at least two televised debates during the Democratic Senate primary runoff.

Cal Cunningham, the former state senator, announced that he had accepted an in invitation to participate in a debate sponsored by WRAL on June 10 and another debate sponsored by NBC-17 and the N.C. League of Women Voters on June 15th, Rob Christensen reports.

Cunningham also said he also calling on Marshall to join in three additional debates, possibly sponsored by the N.C. Democratic Party and held in various regions of the state.

"We are calling on Mrs. Marshall to join us in five debates across the state," Cunningham said during a telephone news conference Thursday afternoon. "I don’t know if she will agree with us, that North Carolinians deserve to hear from the two Democratic candidates that want to discuss the issues facing us."

Thomas Mills, spokesman for the campaign of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, said that campaign had tentatively accepted both televised debates.

He said Marshall was open to additional debates as well, but wanted to check with scheduling.

"We will probably agree to more debates," Mills said. "Every time we get on the stage with Cal Cunningham we seem to gain a ton of support and money."

Marshall finished first in Tuesday’s primary winning 36 percent, less than the 40 percent needed to clinch the nomination. Cunningham was the second place finisher with 27 percent. The runoff will be held June 22nd.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WRAL, Google Maps

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