I don’t know if you’re noticing it, too, but the Cal Cunningham name is showing up more and more in the news. That’s true for both print and social media. What’s even more interesting is that it’s true for both state and national news.

Cunningham, in case you’ve been taking the shelter-in-place admonitions too seriously, is the Democratic Party’s nominee for the United States Senate. He will face the incumbent, Thom Tillis, sweetheart of the Koch Brothers, ardent follower of almost all things Trump and architect of the disastrous policies of the GOP-dominated state legislature of the 2010s. Over the spring North Carolina has moved from probably red state to lean red to now being considered by many pundits a toss-up.

What changed?

Well, for one thing, Trump’s economy turned sour. We could argue that’s not his fault, since there was/is this pandemic thing going on. However, the obvious counter argument to that is: “things probably wouldn’t have been as bad as they are had Trump acted wisely.” So, the Trump pandemic caused the Trump Recession, which is now heading toward the Trump Depression. 

Or we could counter by pointing out that the economy Trump inherited was healthy and on the rise; Trump himself has done little to incentivize growth, particularly for our waning middle class. Indeed, many of his initiatives have proven harmful. The tariffs he continues to claim are being paid by China are actually being paid by Americans. The wall that Mexicans were going to finance slowly grows, also paid for by Americans. The price of fossil fuels is sinking lower by the day and with it that sector of our energy economy, thanks in large part to his friends the Saudis and the Russians, who are engaged in a petroleum supply war. 

Some of our crops, largely planted and picked by immigrant labor, are in danger of finding no one to harvest them; the absence of sufficient farm workers is the result of immigration policies almost too cruel to contemplate.  Chinese retaliation for tariffs has meant that many farmers found no customers for their products, so it’s your tax dollars and mine that have flowed from Washington into their pockets to compensate for their losses. And, not surprisingly, it’s the big players that got most of that compensation and not small family farms. Once the tariff fights end, there’s no guarantee China will return to purchasing things from us, even though that’s what our President claims will happen. He has, after all, been known to be wrong. Clorox for the virus, anyone?

We have alienated our friends and many of the best international consumers of American products. We have passed tax cuts for the wealthy and tossed peanuts to our workers. Trump, in his effort to grease the skids for business friends, has loosened regulations, ensuring that we will have more polluted air, dirtier water, and contaminated landfills. Those actions mean expensive costs down the road to repair the environment and our citizens’ compromised health. Promised redrafted, “huge and improved” international agreements remain either undone or unratified. 

And the good Cunningham news: He out-raised Thom Tillis in the first quarter this year: $4.4 million compared to Tillis’s $2.1. (Unfortunately, Tillis still has a cash-on-hand advantage, since he had a bunch of money already in the bank.) Among the Cunningham donors are people like Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, and Steven Spielberg, the well-known movie director. So, Cunningham’s on the radar of people who have money to spend. He’s also risen significantly in the polls, whereas Tillis has declined.

Cunningham is an attractive candidate in many ways. He’s a veteran who saw service in both Iraq and Afghanistan; he continues to train special operations troops at Fort Bragg.  He has experience in the state legislature. He leads an environmental services and waste reduction company and has been an active voice for environmental sanity. While in the state legislature, he fought for a number of educational reforms, including higher teacher pay, smaller class sizes and more robust early childhood opportunities.

I once thought Tillis’s name recognition and outsider money, as well as the financial support of insider Art Pope, would guarantee his re-election; I no longer think that’s true. This seat is in play. Our job is to get as many Democrats to the polls as we can in November.