GREENSBORO — U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal has two challengers for the N.C. Democratic primary in May. State Sen. Kay Hagan, who represents portions of Greensboro and Guilford County, has indicated that she will enter the race — even though she previously announced that she would not.
John Ross Hendrix, a recent Republican-turned-Democrat, has also indicated that he will run for the Senate seat. Hendrix lost the 2006 13th Congressional District primary to arch-conservative Vernon Robinson. After his defeat, he changed his party affiliation.
Although Hendrix is not expected to garner much support, he will join Neal and Hagan in gunning for the seat now held by Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
Hagan said in a statement on her campaign website, “To make a difference in North Carolina, we need change in Washington. We need a Senator to make our voice heard. We need a Senator who will stand up, lead and make a difference. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s what I’m going to keep doing in Washington.”
She also said North Carolinians need a person to stand up against powerful special interests. However, she has been endorsed by the North Carolina Forum for Research and Economic Education, a large pro-business organization in the state.
Hagan is a close ally of state Democratic leadership. Gov. Mike Easley offered his praises after her official announcement, and she is also endorsed by former Gov. Jim Hunt.
As reported in an exclusive interview in the last issue of Q-Notes, Neal was the first candidate to toss his hat into the ring. Neal’s bid makes him North Carolina’s first openly gay Senate candidate and only the second such candidate nationwide.
There are widespread rumors that national Democratic leaders pressured Hagan to enter the race after Neil publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation and his expected challenger, N.C. Rep. Grier Martin, declined to run.
Progressive activists have criticized the handling of this situation by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and other Democratic leaders. At least one has opted to leave the Party over the matter.
James Protzman, a straight, Triangle-area activist who co-founded the progressive BlueNC.com blog, announced on DailyKos.com that he had changed his voter registration to “unaffiliated” in response to Hagan’s entry into the primary. He accused Democratic leaders of “throwing Jim Neal under the bus.”
Protzman has raised more than half a million dollars for Democrats over the past decade.
“I and my $580,000 in contributions are gone with the wind,” Protzman said. “I’m not gay. And I’ve never actually focused very much on gay issues. But I am now a gay-rights activist — civil rights activist — and I am mad as hell.”
A post on Neal’s campaign website from “Robert P.,” a regular participant on another popular Democratic website MyDD.com, offered a similar shot of righteous indignation.
“I, as much as anyone, have come out blasting the DSCC, the Democratic candidates, and anyone else who went looking for a new candidate just because Jim Neal was gay.
Despite the controversy, Hagan maintained to The Associated Press that Neal’s sexuality had nothing to do with her backtracking on her initial decision.