Local Politics

Lewis hopes to follow in Gantt's, Obama's footsteps

Posted April 29, 2010 5:02 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2010 7:22 p.m. EDT

— Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt tried twice to become the first black U.S. senator from North Carolina. Durham attorney Ken Lewis, who once campaigned for Gantt, is now picking up where his mentor left off.

"Harvey Gantt's candidacy represented, in my view, the highest and best vision of what North Carolina can be," Lewis said recently.

Lewis hopes to challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr in November, but first he must fight through a crowded field in next week's Democratic primary.

A recent WRAL News Poll shows Lewis trailing both North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham by a sizable margin in the six-person race. About one-third of likely voters remain undecided in the race, however.

"We're taking our campaign to the streets," Lewis said. "We're talking to voters. We're knocking on doors. We're meeting voters where they are."

Lewis is a family man with a Harvard University law degree. His father was a college professor, and his mother was a public school teacher.

"The matriarch of our family was my mother's mother," he said. "She was born in Person County, North Carolina. She was born on a plantation where her mother had been a slave."

A first-time candidate, he campaigned and raised money for President Barack Obama two years ago. He said he's reaching out to the same coalition that helped Obama win.

"We're finding all the people around North Carolina who want to embrace the idea of progress and moving forward in a fresh new North Carolina that's a leader, not only in the South, but a leader in the country," he said. "Those are the people that are being attracted to our campaign."

Lewis says the biggest issue facing the state is finding work for the unemployed. Burr's vote against the federal economic stimulus package proves he's out of touch, he said.

"The stimulus package pumped $6.9 billion into North Carolina at a time where there was great economic distress," he said. "People are hurting now. People need help. We need to create jobs and restart our economy. His votes are evidence of a lack of understanding of that or a lack of compassion around that."