Democrat Cunningham Jumps Into Contentious NC Senate Race With National Reach

Democrat Cunningham Jumps Into Contentious NC Senate Race With National Reach


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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A former state senator and veteran of military service in Afghanistan, who presently serves as vice chair of Gov. Roy Cooper’s crime commission, jumped Monday into the contentious–and a bit crowded–race for the US Senate seat currently held by freshman Sen. Thom Tillis (N-NC).

Although Cunningham is not the first Democrat in the race, the others have not gained traction, according to news accounts from the Tar Heel State.

Cunningham, however, jumped in with a big splash, going out nationally with a fundraising message on Day One of his campaign.

“I was born and raised in North Carolina, so I understand the challenges and opportunities our state faces every day — I’ve lived them my whole life,” he said in his fundraising email. “I was called to serve our state early in my life and was one of the youngest elected state senators in North Carolina at the age of 27.

“While in office, I fought hard for critical education priorities like smaller class sizes, teacher pay increases, and better funding for our universities and community colleges,” he added. “I was also a leading advocate for landmark clean air legislation, land preservation efforts, and campaign finance reform.”

Tillis is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators of the 2020 cycle, so much so that he faces a competitive primary from North Carolina Republican Garland Tucker III.

The seat Tillis currently holds is well-known for trading hands from one single-term incumbent to the next.

Tillis won the seat in 2014 by defeating one-termer Kay Hagan (D-NC), who took the seat from Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) after Dole’s single term. Before Dole, the seat had been in Republican hands for decades with Sen. Jesse Helms.

The nominees of both parties for this seat going forward will be decided in March 2020.

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