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Elaine Marshall: working class at heart

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Predictions, as Yogi Berra rightly said, are tough, especially about the future. Still, in recommending a vote for Elaine Marshall rather than Cal Cunningham in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary runoff, we offer two predictions. One is that if nominated, Marshall would have a better chance of winning the fall election against Republican Sen. Richard Burr. The second: If elected, Marshall would be the stronger senator.

Neither statement should be read as a slam on Cunningham, who is very bright and has run a respectable, progressive campaign. Indeed, his positions on the issues are remarkably similar to Marshall's. But Marshall has the longer, stronger record of public service to pit against Burr's myopic conservatism. And while Marshall and Cunningham both offer themselves as advocates for working-class Americans—and no doubt about it, the Senate is short of members who give a damn about the working class—we think Marshall comes to that stance from her gut as well as her intellect. Cunningham, by contrast, often sounds a little too rehearsed, a little too calculating or hesitant.

The difference may be as simple as the fact that Marshall, in her bones and in her roots, is working-class. So she's not confused about what the rights of working men and women should be in a world economy dominated by giant corporations and banks. Nor is she in doubt about where the federal government should stand. It should stand, she believes, with the working class for their jobs, and against labor and trade policies that privilege capital at the expense of people and the environment—at home or abroad. No more outsourcing of America's future.

As a lawyer, a state senator and for the last 14 years as secretary of state, Marshall has been a consistent voice and vote for the interests of regular folks and equal rights for all. She was a forceful exponent of women's equality early in her career, and as a legislator she helped enact a series of laws improving women's health care in North Carolina. She has also stood for equal rights for gays and lesbians, and in this campaign came out early and strongly for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the anti-gay military policy, and of the federal DOMA, the discriminatory law misnamed the Defense of Marriage Act.

The office of Secretary of State is a relatively weak platform from which to influence public policy, but Marshall has maximized the chances it offered. Her office registers lobbyists, for example. So she pushed successfully for laws requiring lobbyists to more fully disclose their spending and closing the loophole that allowed them to pick up legislators' bar and restaurant tabs without reporting it. Her office registers corporations doing business in North Carolina and all securities offerings; she used that authority, in concert with regulators from other states, to recover more than $300 million for North Carolinians victimized by fraudulent investment schemes.

If you've heard Marshall speak, you've heard her talk about growing up in rural Maryland, the daughter of a farmer and a church organist, and about the schoolteachers and the 4-H leaders who helped her be the first in her family to attend college and then law school. She always begins there. It's who she still is, at age 64, the farmer's and the organist's daughter.

Earlier, the Indy supported Durham attorney Ken Lewis, who ran third in the May primary behind Marshall, the first-place finisher with 36 percent of the vote, and Cunningham, the runner-up with 27 percent. Round 1 was a disappointment for Cunningham, who got into the race with the backing of the national Democratic Party leadership and, with their help, raised more money than Marshall. We think Cunningham would've been better advised to accept the voters' decision and not call for a runoff, allowing Marshall to get started on what will be—for either candidate—an uphill challenge to Burr. Instead, Cunningham is attempting to take her primary victory away in a runoff where the voter turnout is likely to be pitiful. In short, if he wins, it will be a victory of dubious merit.

In the runoff, Lewis has endorsed Marshall, saying he likes Cunningham, too, but was finally persuaded by Marshall's greater "conviction and courage." Once again, we agree with Lewis.

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