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Senate Candidate Cal Cunningham Makes Appearance at Appalachian State on Sunday Evening

Cal Cunningham stopped by a phone bank manned by App State students in Appalachian Hall Sunday night around 7:30 to thank them for their work as well as asking questions about what they were hearing from people they had reached by phone about voting in Tuesday’s election.

By Nathan Ham

Cal Cunningham has been out campaigning across the state over the last few weeks in an effort to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate Seat to challenge Republican Incumbent Thom Tillis, who is also facing primary challenges of his own.

Cunningham is in a race with Erica D. Smith, Steve Swenson, Trevor M. Fuller and Atul Goel for the Democratic nomination. He dropped by campus during a phone bank event and took some time to answer a few questions about his campaign and explain why voters should cast their ballot in his favor on Tuesday.

“I love North Carolina, I grew up in NC, I’ve been educated in NC, I’ve built a company in NC, I’ve served with army units in Fort Bragg. It would be a joy and an honor to represent a state that I love, and so I’m asking for people’s votes for the opportunity to give back to a state that has made me who I am,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham was born in Winston-Salem and grew up in nearby Lexington. He attended UNC-Chapel Hill and has served with the United States Army Reserve in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

This will be Cunningham’s second attempt at running for the U.S. Senate. After serving one term as a North Carolina Senator from 2001-03, he did not seek reelection after his district was split into three other districts. Cunningham stayed out of politics until 2010 when he challenged Elaine Marshall and Ken Lewis for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Senator Richard Burr. Despite being endorsed by Retired NATO Commander General Wesley Clark and the North Carolina Association of Educators, Cunningham lost in a runoff election against Marshall after none of the three candidates earned at least 40 percent of the vote during the May primary in 2010.

Now 10 years later, Cunningham is back trying to win a Democratic primary and then set his sights on becoming a U.S. Senator. One of those stops in the final days of his primary campaign just happened to be in Boone.

“I’m engaging with voters and talking with people about the issues on their minds. This is part of a swing we’ve been on across the western part of the state to remind folks that the polls are open on Tuesday and to encourage folks to vote,” Cunningham said. “I’d love the votes of people here in the High Country. I’m traveling all parts of North Carolina, and that includes right here. I’m listening, and I’m engaging and I recognize that reasonable people can have differences on some of the policy issues.”

Cunningham says that if he becomes one of North Carolina’s U.S. Senators, he will continue listening to citizens from all across the state and hear their voices.

“I think at this moment in our nation, we need to put patriotism ahead of partisanship, and that’s part of what I bring to the table. I took an oath after September 11 to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. I’ve done a lot of work that relates to being in Iraq, being in Afghanistan, training green berets, being awarded the Bronze Star and other leadership awards for my service, but I never really imagined that one of the greatest threats to the future of our country would be in Washington D.C. itself,” says Cunningham. “There is political and financial corruption in Washington; they’re not governing the country. Thom Tillis is a part of that problem. I’m going to hold him accountable and would love the opportunity to represent the state.”

The senate candidate is already familiar with the western part of the state. When he was serving in the state senate, he along with a coalition of other representatives from all over the state worked together to pass clean air legislation in the hopes of helping solve the acid rain problem that Grandfather Mountain was facing at the time. Cunningham said that even though there were Democrats and Republicans opposed to the legislation, they were still able to get a bill passed that installed scrubbers at coal-fired power plants that reduced air pollution in the state by 80 percent.

“In a similar way to how we had to take some risks and really work hard to pass that legislation, today we’ve got a climate change problem that is in part driven by carbon pollution and we’re going to need to take serious and strong action. Our nation needs to lead the community of nations or it’s not going to happen,” Cunningham said. “Rather than pull away from the Paris Accords, we need to embrace a carbon-neutral economy, we need to be back in Paris, and we need to invest in wind and solar. I know that wind has a different message here, in the mountains. I think we ought to go wind off the shore, I think we ought to explore solar. I would have more concerns about licensing of wind on the mountaintops here than I do off the coast of North Carolina, but I think that a diverse mix of renewables is an important part of our energy economy, our energy independence, and a clean future.”

Cunningham also touched on the importance of college voters going to the polls and reminded everyone how big of an impact they made in 2018 helping Democrat Ray Russell defeat an incumbent Republican in the North Carolina House of Representatives.

“If college students turn out, I’ll win, and other good people on the ballot will win because college votes absolutely matter and when young people stay home, somebody else’s voice is going to register in the process. Right now in American politics, that’s more likely to be a corporate interest and a special interest. Students have the power to take it back,” he said. “If we think about the economy of the future, we need to make sure that the wealth and benefits in this country are fairly distributed, and that means jobs for people coming out of college. We haven’t raised wages in America in a long time. That makes it harder for people coming out of college to make ends meet. One of the biggest costs is the cost of our educations. So I’m looking at ideas like extended Pell Grants, the Public Service Interest Loan Forgiveness Program, which frankly is a promise we’ve made to almost 100,000 Americans that if you study and do public service work after college for 10 years and pay a percentage of your income towards those loans, that, at the end of that 10-year period, the country will take over whatever’s left. That program is broken. We need to fix it.”

Cal Cunningham took time to thank everyone and encouraged them to keep up the good work.