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Democratic Senate Candidates Meet In Charlotte

Steve Harrison
Democratic Senate candidates Cal Cunningham, from left, Trevor Fuller and Erica Smith debated Tuesday night at West Charlotte High School

With a little more than five weeks before North Carolina’s primary, the leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate met on stage for the first time Tuesday night at West Charlotte High. 

Cal Cunningham and Erica Smith tried to convince the Black Political Caucus that they would be the best candidate to defeat Republican Thom Tillis. 

During their brief debate, Cunningham staked out a position as the moderate candidate in the race.

Like centrist presidential candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, he said he supports a public option for the Affordable Care Act – not starting over with Medicare for all.

Cunningham hasn’t held elected office since 2003, when he was a state senator from Lexington. So, he reminded voters about his military experience.

"I took that oath after Sept. 11," he said. "I’ve served in Iraq. I’ve served in Afghanistan. I’ve trained special operations troops at Fort Bragg. I’ve jumped out of airplanes with the Airborne. And I never expected that the greatest threat to this country would be in Washington, D.C., today."

Smith is a state senator who represents a rural district in the northeastern part of the state.

She has said Washington Democrats are unfairly favoring Cunningham in the race — and she is running as a staunch liberal.

Here is her response to a question about the Green New Deal.

"I am not only a mechanical engineer, I not only believe in science, practice science, I know that global warming is real, and so I emphatically support the Green New Deal and the jobs that it will create," Smith said.

North Carolina’s primary is March 3. A recent Public Policy Polling survey of the race showed Cunningham with support from 22% of voters to Smith’s 12%. Mecklenburg Commissioner Trevor Fuller – who attended the BPC forum — is at 3%, and 60% of voters are undecided.