Local Politics

Senate candidates sound similar themes

With four days left before the Democratic primary, the three leading candidates in the U.S. Senate race are doing little to separate themselves in the minds of undecided voters.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The three leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. Senate race on Friday called for a national energy policy that excludes drilling for oil off the North Carolina coast, a comprehensive strategy to combat illegal immigration and a raft of measures to create jobs.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham and Durham lawyer Ken Lewis addressed various issues facing the state and the nation during a taping of WRAL News program On the Record. Although six candidates are in the Democratic primary, WRAL invited only the candidates who received at least 10 percent support in a recent poll of likely voters.

In that WRAL News Poll, Marshall led the field, with 23 percent support, followed by Cunningham at 19 percent and Lewis at 10 percent. More than a third of those surveyed were undecided.

Despite the fact that so many voters remain uncommitted days before the May 4 primary, the three candidates expressed confidence that they were connecting with voters statewide.

"We feel very good that folks are focusing on our race now," Lewis said. "Democrats are going to have to have that kind of inspiration and excitement to win in the fall."

Marshall said the mid-term election likely would have a low turnout because there isn't a presidential or gubernatorial election to excite voters.

The candidates, however, did little to separate themselves in the minds of voters Friday when addressing issues.

With oil from a growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico sloshing ashore in Louisiana Friday, all three candidates said the spill demonstrates why North Carolina shouldn't open the waters off its coast to oil and natural gas exploration.

"I don't think offshore drilling is the right answer for North Carolina," Cunningham said, adding that the nation needs an energy policy that provides more incentives for renewable energy sources.

Marshall said the fishing and tourism industries are too important to the state economy to risk offshore drilling. If state officials approve the move, however, they need to "drive a hard, hard bargain" to ensure oil companies pay to clean up any spill and for any economic damage to people who make their living off the coastal waters.

Arizona's controversial law to combat illegal immigration drew a sharp rebuke from all three candidates. The new law allows law enforcement to stop anyone suspected of being in the country illegally to ask for proof of their immigration status.

"Illegal immigration is a problem, but what they did in Arizona is atrocious," Cunningham said.

Marshall said such laws make Latinos leery of law enforcement and unwilling to cooperate with police even if they are the victims of crime.

The candidates said mass deportation and amnesty programs won't work, and the nation needs a program that sets the same standards for all states and creates a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally.

"We have to have a path to bring people out of the shadows," Lewis said.

All three said job creation is their primary focus in the election, and they said their ideas can implemented immediately to bring relief to unemployed residents.

"We've got to emphasize entrepreneurship," Marshall said, noting that nationwide health reform means people aren't locked into positions solely because they need health coverage.

Lewis said micro-loans are available to unemployed people looking to start their own business, and Cunningham said the nation needs to provide tax credits for the owners of small manufacturing companies in addition to research-oriented firms.

The candidates also said the financial industry reform being debated in Congress is critical.

"We've got to restore some sanity and stability in the banking industry," Cunningham said.

Watch the entire On the Record discussion with the three Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate at 7 p.m. Saturday.


David Crabtree, Reporter
Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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