DURHAM — In 2008, blogger Pam Spaulding watched North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race closely. From the primary — which included an openly gay candidate — to the general election, Spaulding kept public tabs on the campaigns, candidate positions and community and voter reactions at her nationally-respected blog, PamsHouseBlend.com.
Keeping up with all the campaigns proved difficult, as now-U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan practically ignored LGBT issues, journalists and bloggers — qnotes included.
“I watched in horror at what happened in 2008, where you and many other journalists tried to get Kay Hagan on the record,” Spaulding, a Durham native, told qnotes. “Even just to put her positions out there, she very deftly avoided spending any depth on LGBT issues.”
Her experience with Hagan’s 2008 run for Senate prompted her to up the ante as Democratic primary campaigns swung into gear for this year’s mid-term elections.
“I made a vow at the close of 2008 that next time around this wasn’t going to happen,” she said. “I was going to make sure we got to the candidates from the outset.”
As summer turned to fall in 2009, candidates stepped up and began campaigning in the Democratic primary — which takes place May 4. Spaulding has gotten three of the four Democratic candidates on the record, but not without a fight.
Ken Lewis, Spaulding said, was “gung-ho” about the possibility of being interviewed in one of the blogger’s famous “liveblogs.” Elaine Marshall, who currently serves as North Carolina Secretary of State, was also easy to work with.
But reaching out to former state Sen. Cal Cunningham was nothing short of a hassle, at least according to Spaulding.
Liveblogs with Lewis and Marshall had already been completed and both candidates had put sections on civil rights and LGBT equality on their websites. With no interview (Spaulding said she’d interacted with the campaign and candidate several times, to no avail) and no LGBT rights section on his site, Spaulding felt Cunningham was avoiding the issues. She didn’t want a repeat of 2008.
So, in a lengthy blog post on April 12, Spaulding asked, “Where’s Cal Cunningham on LGBT issues?” Spaulding recounted her attempts to contact the Cunningham campaign and the candidate himself.
After her blog post, complete with a graphic showing Cunningham’s face on a “missing” milk carton, staff with Cunningham’s campaign quickly reached out. The campaign published a section on equality issues on Cunningham’s website and scheduled their candidate’s interview with Spaulding.
Cunningham, a Davidson County native, is considered by many to be the most “electable” against incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Spaulding says Cunningham is favored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Spaulding feels the likely advice given Cunningham and other DSCC-favored candidates — that is, avoid controversial issues like LGBT equality — underestimates the voters of North Carolina and creates a disservice to LGBT constituents.
“It’s maybe a somewhat warped point of view from the Beltway [in Washington, D.C.],” she said. “They think they know North Carolina better than North Carolinians do. Their stay-away-from-the-issue approach only exacerbates the problem.”
Spaulding believes issues of LGBT equality are likely to come up anyway, and Democratic candidates should play offense not defensive by addressing the issues head-on.
“If a candidate is not willing to take on the issues and always be on the defensive, the Republicans will always win,” she said. “The DSCC won’t think about handling it any other way. But some voters will always think the Democrat is pro-gay. Take the bigotry head-on before Burr chooses to bring it on.”
She also sees an unfortunate hypocrisy inherent in how some candidates have addressed issues of importance to LGBT voters.
“They are pretty much mum on our issues, but spend a lot of time courting gay endorsements and gay money,” she said. “They are only willing to discuss these issues behind closed doors with people who have money to give when they put their hand out. That isn’t fair to the vast majority of LGBTs who don’t have the money and the access, who just want to know where they stand.”
In an emailed statement to qnotes, Cunningham Communications Director Angela Guyadeen said Cunningham’s “schedule is very busy but never too busy to speak with voters,” and that Cunningham had agreed to do a liveblog with Spaulding for just that purpose.
“From an early age, Cal was taught that prejudice of any type, whether it is based on race, gender or sexual orientation, is wrong,” Guyadeen said. “If he is elected to the Senate, he will fight against inequalities and injustices on behalf of all the people of North Carolina.” : :
— Read Spaulding’s liveblogs with Cal Cunningham, Ken Lewis and Elaine Marshall at pamshouseblend.com.