Mixed Bag Seeks Chance Against Burr
Three weeks before the May primary, polls show nearly half of likely Democratic voters don't know who they will choose to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
There's an obvious reason for that indecision. Most voters have never heard of or only recently heard of all but one of the six Democrats running.
The one exception is Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, the first woman ever elected to statewide office in North Carolina.
Marshall, 64, holds a fairly obscure office. As secretary of state, her two biggest jobs are overseeing business filings and lobbying regulations.
She has made a name for herself as a fairly blunt politician who speaks her mind. But that trait didn't help her much in 2002, when she lost in the primary for U.S. Senate.
Marshall also isn't the favorite of the party establishment in Washington. That distinction belongs to Winston-Salem lawyer and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
Those party regulars see 37-year-old Cunningham as the biggest threat to Burr. He's articulate, telegenic and has a near-ideal resume for a nonincumbent. He has some political experience but not a long track record that can be used against him.
Cunningham also is an Army reservist lawyer who did a stint in Iraq in 2007. Those advantages helped him raise enough money to recently go up on state airwaves with a biographical ad, something his opponents have yet to do.
The big question for Cunningham is whether being the party's establishment candidate carries more risk than reward. In public appearances, he's seemed a bit overcoached and overrehearsed.
Ken Lewis, a 48-year-old Chapel Hill lawyer, comes into the race having worked behind the scenes for several Democratic candidates, but never having held office himself. Lewis does have a strong professional background, having worked for two major law firms in the state. He's also a graduate of Harvard Law School.
The field of Democrats also includes Lumberton lawyer Marcus Williams, Gastonia schoolteacher Ann Worthy and McDowell County photographer Susan Harris.
Most pundits aren't giving those three much of a chance. Williams, though, is a viable candidate, active in the State Bar Association, who will get some support come Election Day.
In fact, no candidate is likely to get the 40 percent of the vote needed to avoid a run-off.
The candidates aren't simply struggling to become known to the electorate. The front-runners generally haven't set themselves apart on major issues.
All agree with the health-care reform plan passed by Congress. Only Marshall has criticized the troop buildup and continuing role of the United States in Afghanistan. Most oppose President Obama's plan that could open up the coast of North Carolina to oil drilling, with Williams being an exception.
By the way, Burr has three primary challengers.
None of the three - Asheboro City Councilman Eddie Burks, Hendersonville business owner Brad Jones and disbarred lawyer Larry Linney - expect to raise as much as 1 percent of Burr's $15 million campaign fundraising goal.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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