2008: Jim Neal for Senate
This was the official website for Jim Neal for his 2008 Democratic primary campaign for US Senate.
The new owners of this domain have chosen to use archived content as well as articles from other outside sources to keep the story of Jim Neal available on the web. Maybe changes have occurred in the years since Jim ran as an openly gay man for a US Senate seat. In 2020 Pete Buttigieg was the first openly gay major presidential candidate who rose to the primary's top tier, but was unable to build a broad coalition of voters. Nevertheless, who would have imagine this even being possible in 2008? Al lot has changed.
Neal vs. Hagan
APR. 16, 2008
BY BOB GEARY https://indyweek.com/
A blue April sky beckoned some 250 Democrats to the 10th Congressional District straw poll in the Catawba County town of Newton Saturday. When the speeches were done and the votes counted, there was only one big surprise: For the U.S. Senate nomination, Chapel Hill businessman Jim Neal ran ahead of state Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Guilford, 127 votes to 108. Three other, minor candidates received no votes.
The 10th is a heavily Republican district in th foothills, and this was a self-selected group of its Democrats, so it's debatable how indicative the results were of the statewide May 6 primary. At a minimum, though, they are evidence that Neal's grassroots campaign poses a challenge to Hagan's status as the presumptive nominee.
That's what WTVD, Durham's ABC station, thought too when it set out months ago to arrange a televised Hagan-Neal debate. Two WTVD-commissioned polls by SurveyUSA, including one taken in early April, showed the two candidates in a virtual dead heat with more than half the voters undecided.
Neal wanted in, but Hagan didn't, and last week she made it official: Hagan won't debate Neal head-to-head, as the TV station proposed, because it would be unfair to the other candidates, Marcus Williams, Howard Staley and Duskin Lassiter. "We do not feel comfortable participating in a debate where some of the candidates were excluded," said Hagan spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan. "As others have noted, in North Carolina, we have primaries, not coronations."
That last bit was a dig at Neal, who'd used the same words to call out James Carville, Democratic mouthpiece, at the Young Democrats' state convention a week earlier. Carville, in a strategy session, started talking up Hagan's chances against Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole as if Neal who was in the room didn't exist.
"In North Carolina, we have primaries, not coronations," Neal told Carville acidly.
Neal's campaign ripped Hagan's refusal to debate as "cynical and disingenuous." Her strategy "is to raise more money, avoid legitimate debate and blanket the airwaves with television ads," his statement said. "It amounts to selling our elections to the highest bidder."
Hagan is indeed raising more money. Her campaign announced that she collected $820,000 in the first three months of '08, bringing her total to $1.4 million. Neal, who loaned himself $120,000 and raised another $95,000 in the last quarter of '07, won't say how much he's added since. Neither has yet filed official disclosure reports, which are due April 24. (The other three candidates' '07 totals ranged from zero to $635.)
Neal's aides do say, though, that their own fundraising hasn't been helped by the fact that the national Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, headed by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is also touting Hagan as the inevitable nominee. As evidence, they point to the DSCC Web site, which is long on pro-Hagan (and anti-Dole) items while relegating Neal to the list of minor candidates "also vying for the nomination."
The DSCC, along with state Democratic leaders, talked Hagan into running last fall just weeks after she announced that she wouldn't. In between, though, Neal became the only declared candidate, and North Carolina's first serious gay contender for state or national office.
"I met Jim Neal by accident while shopping with my 8 year old daughter. He paused to help us find some ripe cantaloupe and I recognized him from his ads. I had just started a business online as an affiliate for some casinos - focused on slots and was wondering where he stood on regulation of this industry. He was super thoughtful and understood our concern about government interference in our trade. I showed him on my phone the kind of online fun we were highlighting. He was sure that we would have no problem provided the games we listed were legal for US player. He was very supportive toward business in general and engaged my child in a conversation about online games, which he and she both knew (I didn't). Very down to earth, gentle man - I will vote for him." Jason Hecht
Last night, in the North Caroline Democratic primary, Jim Neal lost in his bid to fight against Sen Elizabeth Dole for her seat in the US Senate to Democratic candidate Kay Hagen. However, he and his supporters have everything to be proud about and I wish Mr Neal all the very best in deciding next how he will continue his service to the community.
Daily Kos Blog Post
I’m heartened by the loud rejection of status-quo politics which Iowans- Democratic, Independent and Republican- registered at their caucuses last night. I’m betting my Senatorial candidacy in NC (and have from the day I entered the race) that the electorate is no longer willing to recycle politicos in and out of office. No longer willing to follow the lead of special interest groups. No longer willing to fall in line with political machines. The gilded revolving door– open and shut by a political elite fueled by dollars and glib talking points bereft of personal conviction– is about to be slammed in November. Slammed shut by the only people who matter, the only people who own our democracy and the only people who vote: us.
We’re going to take back control of our democracy. It’s long-past time we did so. Young voters, who have come of age in a more democratic internet era, are making their own choices and checking into the political process. They voted in Iowa. Seventy percent of Iowa Democrats voted for “change” candidates over the establishment favorite. And– for the first time ever- a black man has taken center stage and in a state that is 90% white. So much for glass ceilings.
I am running for the US Senate in North Carolina. I’m not a status quo candidate. I’m a fresh face with a different voice. I come from the real world, not the jaded political world which has failed us. And I happen to be gay. People in NC– contrary to conventional wisdom– could care less. People in Iowa– contrary to conventional wisdom– cared less about Senator Obama’s race or Senator Clinton’s gender. They voted for change. Republican voters overwhelmingly supported Governor Huckabee and his plain-speak compassion on the volatile issue of immigration reform which ran against the headwinds of his own party’s signature wedge issue.
Down here, we’re a blue state with two red Senators. North Carolinians are a damned sophisticated lot. We’re edgy and we’re feeling disenfranchised. And, folks are getting on board of our campaign because they understand the difference between someone who is committed to putting the people first— and a professional politician who values their own political ambition and special interests loyalties first and foremost.
Democracy is reasserting itself. I’ll bet our founding fathers are smiling.
I sure am.
We need your support: every dollar, every vote and every volunteer will make the difference.
Neal On The Issues
We are all paying for the health care crisis - whether through escalating prices for insurance, doctor visits, or lower wages. The more money businesses put into health care, the less they put into your pay envelope.
We must cut soaring health care costs. Our goal must be a family doctor for every family.
Right now, families tangle with a rat’s nest of insurance bureaucracies, HMO red tape and emergency room nightmares. They still don’t get the health care they need. And we all pay more for it.
We will lower health care costs by using technology to manage our care and not just deny our claims, expanding insurance buying groups to include all Americans, and moving patients from the emergency room to the family doctor’s office.
We must transition to health care instead of sick care. We must dramatically improve preventative medicine - it’s cheaper and makes more sense to teach children healthy eating habits than to amputate a diabetic’s limb.
My opponent’s vote against health care for children of working families was wrong - financially and morally. She accepts taxpayer-funded health insurance for herself but denies it to the children of working parents who pay for her coverage.
I oppose my opponent’s plan to turn Medicare over to the giant insurance companies. She took money from our pocket and gave it to her contributors in the drug companies by preventing Medicare from negotiating lower prescription prices. That’s not free market economics - that’s a free lunch. Our senior citizens have earned the right to make their own health care choices, not leave it up to some corporate insurance bureaucrat.
My opponent’s support for economic policies has been a disaster for middle class families. Good-paying jobs are sent to countries that use slave labor, and here at home prices for gasoline, food and health care are soaring.
The only people who are prospering are the financial elites - the same people who buy off career politicians in Washington and Raleigh with campaign contributions.
Our national independence is threatened as the U.S. government borrows money from China to finance record budget deficits. We are mortgaging America’s crown jewels - our productive assets - to finance massive trade deficits.
We need to start exporting American values, not American jobs. When we ship jobs and industries overseas, we also ship our tax base overseas - that’s why America is losing its ability to pay for schools, roads and national defense.
Smart economic policy rewards corporate patriotism - companies that invest in America and make our communities better places to live. The brave men and women who serve in our military stand by America - we need that same vision from corporate executives and the career politicians who take their money.
Our founding fathers knew that national security begins with economic security. Smart economic policy works for the good of the farms, businesses and middle class families which are the backbone of North Carolina’s economy.
We must protect Social Security from privatization schemes that would turn your Social Security check over to the same sort of folks that created the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Over the past two decades, it has become commonplace for corporations to cut back and default on pension obligations, and Americans face increasing job insecurity. I would never support a reckless financial strategy that exposes retirees to the loss of the guaranteed Social Security benefit they worked hard to earn.
We must establish a crash program for energy independence. Emphasis on made-in-America renewable energy sources - alternatives to fossil fuels such as solar, wind and biofuels - and nuclear power will free our nation from the addiction to foreign oil while creating good-paying jobs here at home.
Renewable energy is a New Century industry we can export to the world.
America needs to lead the world as it always has - with new vision and cutting edge technologies for the future.
Government for Sale - Restoring Trust
Our founding fathers never envisioned our democracy putting self interest ahead of the people’s interest. Today, career politicians have put personal ambitions, special interests and partisan politics ahead of the interests of the people who elect them and pay their salaries.
I believe if you don’t come home and listen to the people, you can’t represent their voice their hopes and their interests in Washington.
I will be a public servant and will always remember who I work for, who pays my freight, and to whom I am accountable. That’s a pledge you can put in the bank.
My opponent has blindly backed the policies of the Bush-Cheney administration which took us away from the hunt for Osama Bin-Laden and entangled us in Iraq’s religious civil war.
This blunder will cost American taxpayers nearly $1 trillion - and has already cost more than 3,800 lives and tens of thousands more casualties.
Our troops have done everything we asked of them - and I don’t want to see any more of them die or suffer injury.
It’s time to bring them home to rejoin their families and be a part of their communities again. We have a duty to them to ensure they receive the medical care, education and career opportunities they have earned by putting their lives at risk for us.
After redeployment, we should only require small strategic units in the region to counter terrorism and protect vital American interests.
We need to spend our tax dollars here at home on what matters most - providing job security for middle-class families, ensuring the health of our families, and leading the fight to protect the air water and soil which sustains us.
Leadership Strategy for Entrepreneurship in North Carolina
I have spent my career in the private sector creating, financing and growing business and employment. I believe in the nobility of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Of creating not just jobs, but careers. Not just jobs, but jobs that pay good wages. Not just jobs, but jobs that add value. In short, quality, sustainable jobs that are grounded in entrepreneurship.Our nation is facing enormous financial challenges: spiraling national debt, global competition and financial market slight-of-hand. The stark reality is that we are part of a global economy and that is not going to change. Accordingly our state and our nation must adjust economic policies and growth strategies in order to remain competitive in the world theatre in which we now compete. During my career I have had to make decisions in turbulent economic environments to create opportunities for growth. Such experiences over many years inspire my vision for how your next US Senator can support entrepreneurship in North Carolina.
North Carolina’s future depends on building and enabling “homegrown wealth”: businesses formed by entrepreneurs in the State which create both lasting economic wealth and employment opportunities. Over the last century, the impact of North Carolina’s entrepreneurs in creating wealth and jobs here at home has been profound: the R.J. Reynolds, William Henry Belks, Buck Dukes, Moses & Caesar Cones of the late 19th century were followed in the 20th century by entrepreneurial trailblazers such as Jim Goodnight, Dennis Gillings, Matthew Szulik, Neal Hunter, Ralph Ketner, Eddie Smith and Fred Eshelman. These entrepreneurs shared a common thread: they built businesses which created wealth and good jobs which stayed in North Carolina. Not only did our economy benefit, but local wealth creation enhanced the standards of living statewide through the endowment of universities, schools, libraries, hospitals and green space for the benefit of all.
But it’s not only urban entrepreneurs and urban growth that North Carolina can celebrate. We lead the nation in rural entrepreneurship as well. About 85% of our state is rural and though businesses operating in rural areas aren’t as large or well-known as SAS, Quintiles, Red Hat or Cree, their innovation and growth are every bit as important to our economic diversity and resilience.
As your next US Senator, I’ll be a proponent of federal initiatives which support the development of homegrown wealth. I will work with the entrepreneurial leaders of our state who have had a hand in the growth and strength of our state’s economy. I believe that it is the responsibility of our political leaders to listen to stakeholders, and work with them to find common-sense solutions.
Homegrown wealth is a fairly simple concept, and it’s worked in Silicon Valley, Austin, and Boston just as well as it has here. The Certified Entrepreneurial Communities Program of AdvantageWest in western North Carolina is an excellent example of how communities can leverage rural entrepreneurial efforts to achieve increased sustainability, better jobs, and better economic resilience.
That’s important, for it will frame a simple concept as legislation which will have broad appeal to my Democrat, Republican, and Independent colleagues alike. I believe in a Federal Government that is a focused partner in establishing a fertile environment for entrepreneurial growth, and then gets behind local entrepreneurial thinking and decision-making.
After all, small business entrepreneurs are the economic engine driving our nation’s growth and that reality is only going to be magnified in the 21st century.
So, just how might that translate into policy? I’ll offer a few thoughts.
Raising the Education Bar
We can’t begin any dialogue about building smart businesses without acknowledging the necessity of a workforce trained for the white collar economy of the 21st century. Entrepreneurial opportunities in North Carolina are suffering at a time when less than 1/3rd of the four-year universities in the UNC General System have five-year graduation rates above 50% and our state’s high schools have the 6th worst dropout rate in the nation. Clearly, strengthening our public universities through expansion of such programs as Pell grants and targeted federal research grants will be key agenda items. Likewise, our public high schools are being undercut by federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind-a failed initiative which I would work to scrap and replace with a mandate to foster old-fashioned American innovation, creative thinking, and improved outcomes instead of test-taking skills.
It has been said that the backbone of the military is the non-commissioned officer corps. I say that the backbone for business incubation and skilled labor development is the community college system. North Carolina’s community colleges can compete with community colleges anywhere in the nation. So identifying or creating opportunities to build on this strength of our state through funding or legislation will make our government a partner in success.
Building Infrastructure to Raise Competitiveness
Let’s take those well-trained kids turned away by our education system and provide them with real opportunities in North Carolina’s home-grown economy. If we can provide the human capital -through university and community college-driven investment - infrastructure and financial capital, our entrepreneurial community can build homegrown economic engines for the 21st century.
The Appalachian Regional Commission has played a pivotal role in the development of the basic infrastructure in western North Carolina- I’ll support legislation providing the same for the eastern part of our state through the creation of the Southeast Crescent Authority as currently before the Congress.
We have made persistent and determined improvements in our information infrastructure across North Carolina. Global competitiveness begins with world-class telecommunication access. I will propose legislation further strengthening the digital backbone available to North Carolina and then providing competitive grants to build out the “middle mile” and “last mile” of connectivity. Again, this is the sort of legislation which can draw support across the ideological spectrum because the model can work for all states.
Provide Seed Capital
Based on personal experience, I can tell you that venture and private equity capital investors are increasingly raising the ante for funding new business creation, effectively making their investment mechanisms unavailable for most entrepreneurs. For most fledgling entrepreneurs the only option for funding new businesses is through the inefficient, painstakingly slow process of finding and persuading angel investors.
This is a challenge in which North Carolina is not unlike other states: a need to provide entrepreneurs with ready access to seed capital. I’ve worked extensively with the Small Business Administration in Washington, and have come to admire its Micro-Loan program. It’s a fairly new initiative which has been quite successful-more so than other SBA lending and finance programs. The SBA Micro-Loan program’s budget and loan caps must be expanded and its regional targets should be directed by public/private economic development authorities at the local level. If an expanded Micro-Loan program proves to be a success, it would serve as a model for a host of federal agencies to manage the myriad of development programs.
Entrepreneurial Spirit in Washington
Successful entrepreneurs don’t take wild risks; we take very calculated risks, learn fast and move forward. As your next US Senator, I will embrace the development of innovative ideas, track performance honestly and transparently-without pride or prejudice- in order to learn from real experience and then either scale up investment or accept loss and throw it out.
In these uncertain times, North Carolinians have a lot to be concerned with. Our current leadership is asleep at the switch. There are crucial decisions that need to be made by experienced professionals. As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned how one manages change to make the difference between falling behind and leaping ahead of the competition.
Fostering the entrepreneurial spirit is in the best interest of everyone: creating home grown wealth will benefit our economy, our communities, and our state far more than any big-business subsidy. That is why I hope that this letter is the beginning of discussion, not the end. I want to hear from the entrepreneurial community, not only about your challenges, but about your success. I want to hear your thoughts about how we continue to grow North Carolina in the 21st century. I am going to be your partner in this effort. I hope to earn your support for my candidacy, because North Carolina needs an experienced, dedicated voice that demands our fair share of development funding and accepts nothing less.
NC’s first statewide gay candidate says Democrats held him back
APRIL 29, 2016
By Josh Shaffer | www.newsobserver.com/
Jim Neal ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008 as the first gay candidate for major office, losing badly in the primary to Kay Hagan. The biggest obstacles in his campaign: fellow Democrats.
In 2008, Jim Neal ran for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, taking a long-shot swing as a Chapel Hill investment banker with scant name recognition and zero experience on the campaign trail.
Few that year wanted to challenge Elizabeth Dole, the incumbent and a star in Republican circles, but Neal faced an even tougher trial because he is gay – the first openly homosexual candidate to seek statewide election in North Carolina.
On the way to losing in the primary, finishing a distant second to Kay Hagan, Neal says he endured a string of painful punches to the ribs: fundraisers that got suddenly canceled, endorsements that mysteriously dried up, promised checks in the mail that never arrived.
Across the state, he recalls, he heard this mantra from important political players: “A gay man can’t win in North Carolina.”
But here’s the shocker: As Neal looks back after eight years, he believes the biggest obstacle to him becoming the first gay senator came from his fellow Democrats, not the Republicans now taking flak for HB2. The party that prides itself on inclusiveness, he says, shut him out.
“It really hurt,” said Neal, 59. “I stood up for this party. Democrats aren’t supposed to be taking out Democrats. I was really bitter that there wasn’t a level playing field. It was personal. Who I am. What I am. It wasn’t about, ‘Am I a good candidate?’ or the ability to raise money. None of that. … It was the same old fear-mongering.”
But Neal refuses to remain a political afterthought eight years later, when gender and sexuality still dominate his home state’s civic affairs. With HB2 targeting the transgender community, he wants to speak from experience about being a target of political bullies.
“On my worst day, I never had it as bad as transgender people across this country,” he said. “HB2 is really laser focused, targeting for political purposes people who are incredibly vulnerable, people who are incredibly marginalized, people who are incredibly scared and people who have rates of suicide that are off the chart.”
Thomas Mills revisited Neal’s 2008 run last week in his post for the “PoliticsNC” blog. Mills recalled Neal pitching the idea of his candidacy in 2007, when Mills was a campaign manager.
Neal was smart, well-informed, good-looking, had a commanding presence and had experience raising piles of money for both John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004, Mills wrote. Still, he added, “The world was different then. We hadn’t had much of the marriage equality debate and the idea of a gay U.S. Senate candidate seemed far-fetched. In early meetings, we tried to talk him out of it. We had long discussions about the impact on him and his family. Jim, though, was determined.
Neal was the first Democrat to join the race. Hagan had said publicly in October 2007 that she wouldn’t be running. Shortly after that announcement, Neal’s sexuality surfaced for the first time as he answered a question about it during an online forum with the liberal blog NCBlue. The News & Observer followed with a front-page story.
“I went from being wealthy Chapel Hill investment banker Jim Neal to gay Jim Neal,” he said. “It was novel. It was new. That was all fair game. I was naive. I didn’t want anybody whispering it. I wanted people shouting it.”
Days later, Hagan said she would reconsider running. She declined to comment on why she was taking a second look.
But for Neal, Democrats soon turned a cold shoulder.
The word on him trickled down from U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, he said, who as the head of the committee to elect Senate Democrats, warned potential donors to hold off until a more electable candidate could be found. “It was an open secret,” Neal said. Durham activist Pam Spaulding called Schumer’s snub “shameful,” noting that Neal’s phone calls went unreturned, according to Bob Geary’s report in The Independent weekly newspaper at the time.
Schumer’s office in Washington, though, said on Friday that Neal’s recollection is flatly false.
“Completely untrue,” said Schumer spokesman Matt House. “The (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) was looking for candidates with legislative experience before Mr. Neal entered the race and before he discussed his personal life. His sexuality was never a factor.”
The senator’s staff pointed to the same story in The Independent that said Schumer had been courting both Hagan and state Rep. Grier Martin as candidates before Neal’s candidacy.
Neal also recalled meeting with Asheville philanthropist Adelaide Key, a member of the Daniels family that once owned the The N&O. Neal said Kay made a verbal promise to hold a fundraiser. But soon after their meetings, he couldn’t get Key, who died in 2014, to return his phone calls.
Jim Long, the former state insurance commissioner who died in 2009, told Neal he would send out a news release announcing his endorsement. He backed off. All of the big-name Democrats in the state backed Hagan, twisting arms of even Neal’s friends, he recalled.
“Jim never got the support from the LGBT establishment – the professional gays, as he called them – but did receive support from other less expected places, like older Democrats who we thought would be more conservative on the issue,” Mills wrote. “Jim obviously didn’t win the primary but he did introduce a lot of young people to politics. I still work with people who first got into politics because Jim Neal ran for Senate. Jim always said he didn’t want to be a cause candidate or ‘the gay candidate.’ But to some people, he was a cause. He was the first openly gay candidate to run for statewide office in North Carolina.”
After the primary loss, Neal met Art Pope at the NCAA championship in Detroit, and he said the state’s conservative kingpin told him, “It was awful what the Democrats did to me.”
Reached Friday, Pope said he recalled meeting Neal in Detroit but not that specific conversation, which didn’t sound like something he would say. “I really don’t opine on how Democrats treat each other in primaries,” he said.
Neal felt abandoned, unwanted and untouchable. He fell into heavy drug use. He moved to Chicago, where he’d gone to graduate school, for a few years.
“It takes a toll,” Neal said. “You don’t escape it. It’s so demeaning to be defined just by your sexual orientation.”
And now, returned to Raleigh as the co-founder of a startup business and recovered from his drug problems, Neal is weighing in heavily on the side of the transgender community. He went and got arrested Monday while protesting HB2, because he said he knows how it feels to a political target, alienated and afraid.
He’s been through it before.
UP AND OUT: THAT TIME A GAY GUY RAN FOR US SENATE
APR 20, 2016
BY THOMAS MILLS | EDITOR'S BLOG, NATIONAL POLITICS, US SENATE | /www.politicsnc.com/
Yesterday, former Democratic US Senate candidate Jim Neal posted a video that brought back a flood of memories. The interview on WRAL was Jim’s first meeting with TV reporters in his race to unseat Republican Elizabeth Dole and at the time, he was the only Democrat in the race. The headline says it all. “Neal Plays Up Being Outsider, Not Being Out.” Jim was only the second openly gay candidate in the history of the country to run for US Senate. At the time it was a big deal and a big controversy. Jim contacted me in the fall of 2007 about running when nobody else seemed to be stepping up to take on Dole. The incumbent had rock-star status and a race against her seemed like a fool’s errand to many establishment Democrats. Jim, who had raised pile of money for John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004, believed he could make a go of it. The world was different then. We hadn’t had much of the marriage equality debate and the idea of a gay US Senate candidate seemed far-fetched. In early meetings we tried to talk him out of it. We had long discussions about the impact on him and his family. Jim, though, was determined.
Jim came with a lot of assets but no political resume and one big liability. He was smart, well-informed, good-looking with a natural flair for retail politics. He had a commanding presence and access to people with money. He was also gay.
Jim announced his candidacy to little fanfare but a great deal of curiosity. We got a few blurbs in newspapers around the state but he was unknown in Democratic political circles. His announcement didn’t mention his sexual orientation and focused on defeating Dole.
Within a few days, we started getting calls urging Jim to get out of the race. When a caller told me, “Thomas, your candidate has serious skeletons in his closet,” I responded, “There is no closet.” Another caller told me that when news got out about Jim’s sexuality, he would jeopardize the whole Democratic ticket.
We had always known that we would have to break the news about Jim’s sexuality. We just didn’t know when or how. The time came more quickly than we had hoped. We were still in the early stages of setting up his campaign operation. However, we also knew that we wanted to control the message and the process.
We developed a plan to give us maximum coverage while having as much control as possible. We scheduled a series of interviews with state political reporters on a Monday and Tuesday in mid-October. We scheduled a live-blog for the preceding Saturday on BlueNC and publicized it on DailyKos, the national progressive standard bearer for blogs at the time.
The live blog started with a series of mundane questions about running for office and issues bubbling up in Washington. Then, a question came up that simply said, “I heard you’re gay.” Initially, some of the participants gave the questioner push-back, but Jim answered simply. “I am indeed. No big secret and no big deal to me—I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think otherwise.” After several additional comments, the questions from participants went back to the issues of running for office.
Nationally, though, the news was travelling quickly through the blogosphere. Gay and lesbian bloggers like Pam Spaulding from Pam’s Houseblend, quickly got up stories. Low dollar contributions began pouring in and Jim instantly, if relatively briefly, became an internet sensation.
But those days were different. We didn’t have twitter and Facebook was still pretty much the realm of college kids. While bloggers across the country chatted and blogged about a gay candidate for US Senate in North Carolina, the mainstream media didn’t get the news.
On Monday, our first interview was with the AP. The reporter called me about two hours before the interview and he was hot. We assumed he would have gotten the news over the weekend. Instead, he felt blindsided. He calmed down as he came to understand that he was breaking the story for most the political establishment in the state.
With the AP article circulating across the state, Jim did a day of interviews on Tuesday with the political press, including the WRAL spot. We got a mix of support and skepticism. It was one of those times when, as they say, you find out who your friends are.
Within a couple of weeks of the interviews, Kay Hagan announced her candidacy. The next six months were the typical rollercoaster of a campaign—at times exhilarating, frustrating, and exhausting. Jim never got the support from the LGBT establishment—the professional gays, as he called them—but did receive support from other less expected places, like older Democrats who we thought would be more conservative on the issue.
Jim obviously didn’t win the primary but he did introduce a lot of young people to politics. I still work with people who first got into politics because Jim Neal ran for Senate. Jim always said he didn’t want to be a cause candidate or “the gay candidate.” But to some people, he was a cause. He was the first openly gay candidate to run for statewide office in North Carolina. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal today, but it did back then.
Maybe in eight more years we’ll wonder what the fuss over HB2 was all about. I hope so.