GREENSBORO, N.C. — Lt. Colonel Cal Cunningham's first run for office two decades ago looked drastically different from his current bid for U.S. Senate as the Democratic nominee.
Now, the Lexington native must virtually remind voters of his name and platform, amid a looming election and global pandemic.
"There are tens of thousands of North Carolinians out of work through no fault of their own, because of this virus. And, we need to make sure we are supporting our small businesses and investing in the contact tracing, the testing, the personal protective gear that are essential to helping us beat this virus," Cunningham said.
While at home in Raleigh, he talked one-on-one via Zoom with WFMY News 2's Meghann Mollerus. He admitted pandemic life is stressful, especially for North Carolina families with school-age children.
"We here in our household have a high school student, as well. He's taking most of his classes online. There's no easy answer for this, but we've got to beat this virus, and doing so means putting public health first."
Cunningham also shared concerns about his college freshman, who is attending a state university. He is aware of COVID-19 clusters at his own alma-mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, and he contemplates whether all NC schools at all grade levels should switch to remote learning, before it is too late.
"I think it's the right thing to explore, moving forward with much more online learning to make sure our people stay safe," he said.
So, he touts support of NC Governor Roy Cooper in extending Phase 2 and keeping bars, gyms and theaters closed through at least Sept. 11.
"I hear Gov. Cooper putting public health first, and I think that's important for all of us, as we think about how to beat this virus. Getting back to a sense of normalcy, being able to celebrate the Barbecue Festival in Lexington again...and I think the governor is doing a good job under really tough circumstances," Cunningham said.
But, Cunningham's opponent, incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), claims Cunningham's plan to normalcy involves tax hikes, citing the time Cunningham voted for one billion dollars in tax increases during the 9/11 recession.
"Meghann, I take responsibility for voting for the state budget in 2001. What it did is prioritize public education. And we raised teacher pay, we reduced class sizes, we actually started what is now called the NC pre-K program. We put resources into saving water and farmland in NC. I think it also preserved our AAA bond rating," he explained.
Cunningham's term in the state senate, two decades ago, was his only stint as a lawmaker. After that, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve and earned a Bronze Star and the MacArthur Leadership award for tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is a state that's made me who I am. It's a place I love very dearly, and I'm very patriotic about our country. And, I believe these experiences are exactly what North Carolinians are looking for in their next U.S. Senator for our state," Cunningham said.
It's a state whose voters Cunningham hopes go blue at the ballot box.
Mollerus also talked one-on-one with Tillis. She pressed both candidates to go on the record about each other's fiery attack ad claims. Catch the full interviews with Cunningham and Tillis on the WFMY YouTube channel: