Local Politics

Neal Plays Up Being Outsider, Not Being Out

Posted October 23, 2007 1:01 p.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2007 6:57 a.m. EDT

— Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal said Tuesday that he doesn't think being a gay man should stand in the way of his campaign.

Neal revealed his sexual orientation publicly over the weekend during an online discussion organized by BlueNC.com, a liberal blog. But he said his family and friends have known about his lifestyle for years, and he doesn't foresee it as a campaign issue.

"I have faith in the innate goodness of the people of this state and country to make an informed decision and to look beyond all the fear-mongering, preconceived notions (and) prejudices that may exist. I think we've moved beyond that," he said. "I'm not running to make a political statement; I'm running to lead."

The Chapel Hill corporate financial adviser said he has "always been out," calling himself a political outsider who would play closer attention to the needs of North Carolina than Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

"I understand what the problems are and the issues are that confront the people of this country, as opposed to what the political agenda is of a professional politician like Sen. Dole," he said. "Sen. Dole is part of a process that is out of touch with reality."

One such issue is President George W. Bush's recent veto to not expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which is designed to cover children in families that don't qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance. Dole joined most other Republicans in declining to override the veto.

About 120,000 children in North Carolina would be covered if SCHIP had been approved, Neal said.

"How she can turn a deaf ear on that, I don't understand," he said of Dole. "I don't understand it as a parent. I don't understand it as a human being."

Neal said he prefers having the gay issue out in the open because it prevents rumor-mongering on the campaign trail.

"I'm glad that they can't whisper anymore," he said. "They can shout. I can hear that. But there's nothing to whisper about because it's no secret."

He said he plans to "erect a firewall" around his family – he has two grown sons with his ex-wife – and personal life because they aren't part of the campaign.