Yes, but will he lead like Terry Sanford?

Former N.C. State Sen. Cal Cunningham, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-native living in nearby Davidson County, has announced his challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, also of Winston-Salem.

Other than the interesting regional connection between the two pols and what that means for the continued East-to-West political shift in the Tar Heel State, I was also intrigued by a portion of Cunningham’s announcement. More below the fold…

Speaking of former U.S. Sen. Terry Sanford, a former North Carolina governor, Cunningham said: “He led North Carolina in challenging times and made our state a model for the nation in education and civil rights. I would be honored to stand in his place in the U.S. Senate to work with our president and represent our great state.”

As president of Duke University, Sanford helped to ease racial tensions on campus and promoted more equal learning environments for all students. As an elected official, Sanford was decidedly progressive, allied with Kennedy and set the stage for New South advances in equality, civil rights and other progressive issues:

Instead of aligning himself with segregationists like Alabama governor George Wallace, Terry Sanford struck his own path. Never radical, always cunning, Sanford helped forge the New South with progressive politics and a singular, optimistic vision. By the time Sanford’s four-year term ended, he’d broken rank to back a northeastern Catholic for president, delivered IBM to North Carolina, waged war on poverty, hiked the minimum wage and created a model for Head Start. Before Jimmy Carter, before Bill Clinton, there was Terry Sanford.


In the midst of his own campaign, Sanford compounded his political risks by backing John F. Kennedy instead of fellow southerner Lyndon B. Johnson for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination. Sanford calculated that while supporting Kennedy would likely cost him half the margin of victory in his own campaign, he would nevertheless win and that helping Kennedy would pay huge dividends to North Carolina and to him personally for years to come.

Cunningham says he wants to model his leadership and service on behalf of North Carolinians after that of Terry Sanford’s. Will Cunningham take his own advice and lead on the civil rights issues of today? It’ll be interesting to see how well Cunningham responds to LGBT issues and Tar Heel gay news-media and bloggers, or if he’ll give us a repeat of Sen. Kay Hagan’s unfortunate campaign decisions to ignore any in-depth thought or comment on issues important to LGBT North Carolinians (more on that 2008 dust-up here and here).

Update: Pam Spaulding and a Blend reader point us to some more info on Cunningham and his LGBT record. Jake Geller-Goad, a Triangle-area activist, spoke to the three Senate candidates — Cunningham, Lewis and Marshall. Their answers to his questions are here. On, a commenter pulled up some research on LGBT-positive bills winding their way through the legislature when Cunningham served in the state Senate. Cunningham didn’t sponsor any of them. That info here.

Cross-posted to Pam’s House Blend

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