As the March 3 primary approaches, five candidates on the N.C. Democratic primary ballot for U.S. Senate — Cal Cunningham, Trevor Fuller, Atul Goel, Erica Smith and Steve Swenson — are promoting their platforms to make the case as to why they should be the one to run against incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
A poll released this week by Public Policy Polling found that while 52 percent of voters remain undecided, Cunningham led Smith in the poll, with 29 percent of respondents saying they back Cunningham to Smith's 10 percent. Goel, Fuller and Swenson each polled at 4 percent or less.
Cunningham, Smith and Goel have all promised to not take corporate PAC money according to their websites, and Dee Jones, campaign coordinator for Trevor Fuller, said Fuller has also taken the pledge. Health care, climate change and education are among some of the biggest issues being discussed in the various campaigns.
According to FEC filings through the last quarter of 2019, Cunningham claimed receipts of over $3.3 million and Smith claimed around $213,000.
The candidates are divided on how to provide affordable health care to everyone. Cunningham said he supports strengthening the Affordable Care Act, expanding Medicaid in North Carolina and creating a public health insurance option. He also said he wants Medicare to be allowed to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug costs.
“One of the ways I just don’t put forth is any plan that would take away over 150 million Americans’ private health insurance,” Cunningham said. “Particularly, in the case of labor organizations and many other organizations — they have negotiated for generous benefits.”
Fuller and Smith have both indicated support for "Medicare for All." Smith said she would be supportive of the "Medicare for All" bill introduced last February by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. Jayapal’s bill would federally cover items like preventative services and prescription drugs, and the bill further includes insurance coverage for mental health, dental and vision services. Additionally, Smith said expanding Medicaid in North Carolina is a necessary step.
Goel, a physician, said he has not explicitly put forth a specific policy in regards to health care, but said experience in the medical field is a reason voters should trust him to have the ability to work with others in the industry to create a solution. He said he does not believe the answer is to completely start over with another system, as it would spark disruption, and because many people like their insurance.
“For the people that are uninsured, that may require a complete governmental involvement just so they have insurance, something like a single-payer type thing to help those people,” Goel said. “And there are people that are underinsured — that may require a different solution. And, of course, there are the people that are happy with what they have.”
Some of the biggest issues going into 2020 have been climate change and protecting the environment.
Fuller and Smith have stated on their campaign websites they support the Green New Deal. Fuller's campaign website says he believes the Green New Deal would provide a new sector of clean energy jobs to North Carolina and allow the state to become more resilient against the negative effects of climate change.
Smith said protecting the environment is also an issue of equity. She said everyone should have access to clean air and water and said the Green New Deal is for a livable wage, social justice and environmental justice.
“There have been generations of Black and brown people who have had the significant disparate impact of corporate polluters,” Smith said.
Cunningham said the environment is an issue that he is very passionate about and North Carolinians tend to be on the receiving end of climate change and its consequences. He said his goals are to have a carbon-neutral economy by the year 2050 and to cut carbon and public pollution in half by the year 2030.
He said this would be accomplished by investing in wind and solar as a way to transition the economy.
“This is going to be an issue that I talk a lot about — that Thom Tillis is going to be on the other side of,” Cunningham said. “I think this is a place where we are going to have a fairly spirited debate.”
Wages and affordable housing
Congress has not raised the federal minimum wage since 2009, and three candidates have included this issue to be part of their platform in this 2020 primary. Cunningham, Fuller and Smith have all said they would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Smith said affordable housing is an issue all over the state, and the storm damage from Hurricane Florence demonstrated a pervasive affordable housing crisis. She said it is important to collaborate with stakeholders, developers and the government to come up with a substantive plan to address affordable housing.
“It can be done, whether we are in the urban centers or the rural areas,” Smith said. “We are going to look at re-engineering those policies and programs so they work effectively in addressing this crisis."
Early voting will run from Feb. 13 to Feb. 29, and the primary will be held on March 3.
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