Wed. Apr 8th, 2020

Cal Cunningham Campaigns For U.S. Senate

North Carolinian Cunningham spoke at the university about his platform and upcoming race

On Feb. 24, Cal Cunningham, a Democrat running to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, paid a visit to campus for a meet and greet. Among other Democrats, he is running to replace Republican incumbent Thom Tillis. 

Cunningham grew up in Lexington, N.C., a town where he knew all of his neighbors and worked in maintenance stacking bricks as a kid. He was always motivated to do better and work harder by the prospect of gaining higher education. He ultimately graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill with a degree in political science and philosophy before going on to earn a master’s degree in public policy from the London School of Economics. 

Though Cunningham never attended the university, he has unique ties to it and to Winston-Salem. Both Cunningham’s father and wife attended Wake Forest School of Law and his daughter was just accepted to the university. Additionally, Cunningham attended Forsyth Country Day School in Lewisville and would routinely visit Wait Chapel for music and social events. He then worked at a law firm in Winston-Salem as an attorney before pursuing a career in public policy. 

“I feel a kinship for Wake and the area even though I never took classes here and don’t wear black and gold,” Cunningham said. 

At the start of the event, Cunningham touted his extensive and diverse experiences that qualify him to be senator. At 27 years old, Cunningham was elected to be one of the youngest North Carolina senators, representing Davidson, Rowan and Iredell counties. However, after the 9/11 attacks, Cunningham volunteered to join the U.S. Army reserve, and has since served in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a paratrooper. His experience of service has given him a new perspective in considering problems at home. 

“Serving is at the heart of what I wanted to be,” he said.

Though Cunningham has not served as an elected official since his stint as senator of North Carolina, he has remained heavily involved in public policy. He was appointed by Governor Roy Cooper to be the Vice Chair of the Governor’s Crime Commission. As the vice chair, he has pioneered reforms related to “cash for bail”. 

“Sometimes in America, justice requires a fight,” he said. 

Key issues that Cunningham hopes to tackle in the Senate if elected are access to higher education, addition of a public option to the Affordable Care Act while allowing people to keep their private insurance, climate change, women’s rights, gun violence, reform of the criminal justice system and support for military families. Given that he is a veteran, issues involving war and military families are personal for Cunningham. He left his family for years at a time while serving. 

“We owe them, [the troops,] a foreign policy that is worthy of the sacrifices we ask them to make,” he said.

Specifically, Cunningham seeks to re-enact section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, outlaw gerrymandering based on race and class and reform the filibuster to make it a more effective tool in the Senate. He is also a firm believer in affirmative action and hopes to implement clean air reform and other reforms related to climate change. Cunningham said that Republican money from oil and gas prohibits Congress from addressing climate change legislation. This is related to another one of Cunningham’s key issues: ending government corruption by overturning the Citizens United verdict. 

“After seeing threats overseas, I never thought that the biggest threat to our country would be from Washington,” Cunningham said.

When it came time for the question and answer portion of the event, students did not hold back. One student pressed Cunningham about how politicians address important issues during their campaigns but only at surface levels. Cunningham responded that he is “not just hitting the wave tops but getting down into the waters.” Other students challenged him on issues regarding the criminal justice system and gun reform.

However, many students were excited to hear Cunningham speak, especially those originally from North Carolina. 

“I am a registered Democrat in North Carolina and I was looking at just local events nearby,” said sophomore Jourdan Folger. “I saw this and I thought well, it’s my state, it’s my home, so might as well go listen.”

Though he did not mention it until the very end, Cunningham has most recently served as vice president and general counsel for WasteZero, a waste reduction company based in Raleigh. His involvement with the company has helped shape his environmental platform. 

“I think his talk about his environmental work with WasteZero is really important, and I think that I’d love to see him as a future senator of North Carolina,” Folger said. 

Drew Skilton, a member of the College Democrats, already voted for Cunningham during early voting. 

“I really think he’s the person to beat Thom Tillis, which is ultimately my end goal,” Skilton said. “It just reaffirmed the commitment that I made the

Elizabeth Maline/Old Gold & Black

right choice on the ballot.” 

Ultimately, Cunningham will have to win the primary to run against Tillis in the general election. He still faces a competitive race against progressive State Senator Erica Smith, Steve Swenson, Trevor Fuller and Atul Goel. However, according to a poll released by Public Policy Polling, Cunningham currently leads all other candidates by large margins. Being the frontrunner, Cunningham has become a target for Republican-paid advertising. 

While Cunningham thinks highly of all of the Democratic candidates, he believes he is the best candidate to take on Tillis because of his ties to North Carolina and endorsements. Cunningham says he is building a broad coalition and telling a “North Carolina story.” He has been endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and the Brady Campaign, among other organizations. 

Cunningham has outraised Tillis and has had over 12,000 people donate to his campaign, while that number continues to grow by hundreds daily. He believes his diverse experiences are reflective of the diversity of North Carolina and that he has the strength necessary to win. His decision to run stems from the oath he took upon entering the army and the commitment he made to serve his country, whatever way that may be. 

Cunningham also spent ample time discussing the shortcomings of incumbent Tillis, who he claims has put partisan interests ahead of North Carolina’s interests. He was unequivocally against impeachment and on his first senate floor speech, he discussed wanting to open oil and gas drilling off the North Carolina coast, which Cunningham claims is instead a way to gain support from certain lobbyists and interest groups. He also cited Tillis’ supporting of defunding elementary schools and the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Education Center and Library, both in North Carolina, to help fund Trump’s border wall. 

Cunningham emphasized the importance of the North Carolina Senate race to students. As Democrats try and take back control of the Senate, Cunningham claims capturing this seat is possible and necessary to gain a majority. 

“There is no more important race for the future of the senate than this one,” he said. “If you’re thinking about ways to make a difference in America, to make a difference in North Carolina and this community, this senate race might decide whether we take the senate this fall.” 

cGovernor’s Council and I think he’s kind of a younger guy who will tell Tillis, you know, his time’s up.”

Ultimately, Cunningham will have to win the primary to run against Tillis in the general election. He still faces a competitive race against progressive State Senator Erica Smith, Steve Swenson, Trevor Fuller and Atul Goel. However, according to a poll released by Public Policy Polling, Cunningham currently leads all other candidates by large margins. Being the frontrunner, Cunningham has become a target for Republican-paid advertising. 

While Cunningham thinks highly of all of the Democratic candidates, he believes he is the best candidate to take on Tillis because of his ties to North Carolina and endorsements. Cunningham says he is building a broad coalition and telling a “North Carolina story.” He has been endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and the Brady Campaign, among other organizations. 

Cunningham has outraised Tillis and has had over 12,000 people donate to his campaign, while that number continues to grow by hundreds daily. He believes his diverse experiences are reflective of the diversity of North Carolina and that he has the strength necessary to win. His decision to run stems from the oath he took upon entering the army and the commitment he made to serve his country, whatever way that may be. 

Cunningham also spent ample time discussing the shortcomings of incumbent Tillis, who he claims has put partisan interests ahead of North Carolina’s interests. He was unequivocally against impeachment and on his first senate floor speech, he discussed wanting to open oil and gas drilling off the North Carolina coast, which Cunningham claims is instead a way to gain support from certain lobbyists and interest groups. He also cited Tillis’ supporting of defunding elementary schools and the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Education Center and Library, both in North Carolina, to help fund Trump’s border wall. 

Cunningham emphasized the importance of the North Carolina Senate race to students. As Democrats try and take back control of the Senate, Cunningham claims capturing this seat is possible and necessary to gain a majority. 

“There is no more important race for the future of the senate than this one,” he said. “If you’re thinking about ways to make a difference in America, to make a difference in North Carolina and this community, this senate race might decide whether we take the senate this fall.”