Charlotte Democrat Ray Warren, a man with an unusual political history, has become the seventh candidate to vie for a U.S. Senate seat in 2002.
After resigning his post as a N.C. Superior Court judge last week, Warren filed papers Friday officially announcing his candidacy.
Warren, 44, joins a list of Democratic candidates for the seat that includes Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, state Rep. Dan Blue and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
Republicans running for the seat include former Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and Rowan County Board of Education member Ada Fisher.
Warren said his campaign will stress the need to prepare N.C. citizens for an "information age" and to help adults who have been working in a manufacturing economy make the necessary career transition.
Warren added that he wants to "project a more moderate and progressive image for North Carolina."
"I see that as an economic development issue as much as anything," he said.
Warren, a former Republican, made news in 1998 when he announced that he was gay. He left the GOP in 1999 after Republicans helped kill a bill to expand state hate-crime law to include sexual orientation. "The Republican Party is not open to people with new ideas or people who don't fit a certain cookie-cutter mentality," Warren said. "I think the Democratic Party is the new centrist party in the country now."
Warren said he does not think his sexual orientation will be the principle issue in the campaign but that it could encourage people to take interest in the primaries who traditionally have not.
Warren, a Charlotte-area native, began his legal career after receiving his law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1983.
Warren was first elected to the N.C. House as a Republican in 1984. He was re-elected two years later and served one term as the House Minority Whip.
In 1988, Warren ran for secretary of state. He was first elected as a judge in 1994. In 1998, he ran for a spot on the N.C. Court of Appeals, losing by a narrow margin. Warren has two children and is divorced.
Bill Cobey, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, said he doubts Warren will be able to raise the funds necessary to succeed in the primaries.
"He's never been able to raise significant money," Cobey said. "That's going to be a formidable task."
Despite Warren's previous political experience, Cobey said Warren's chances of winning the primary are slim. "Running for a judgeship is far different than running for a U.S. Senate seat," Cobey said. "It's what you are able to build a candidacy on, and (the other Democratic primary candidates) have a much better chance of building a successful campaign."
Cobey also questioned Warren's decision to give up his judgeship.
N.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Barbara Allen could not be reached for comment. But Warren said he believes he can win the Democratic primary in spite of his low profile. "I think we'll be fairly prominent ourselves by the time the primaries get here."
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