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May 9, 2008

Neal loses Senate primary race in North Carolina

Raleigh, N.C.--A gay candidate with a chance to become a major party’s nominee for U.S. Senate was defeated in North Carolina’s May 6 Democratic primary.

Jim Neal, 52, an investment banker, finished second in a field of five behind the national Democratic Party’s choice to run against Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole in November.

Neal won 18 percent of the vote. The winner, state senator Kay Hagan, got 60 percent. Marcus Williams finished third, followed by Duskin Lassiter, then Howard Staley.

Neal immediately endorsed Hagan in the race against Dole.

“This could be in the year in which Sen. Dole can be beaten, and Kay has my full support as the nominee to do that,” Neal said.

The race, seen as a runoff between Neal and Hagen, was bitter and hard fought.

After first saying she would not seek the seat, Hagen entered the race last fall after Neal declared his candidacy and later came out as gay on a blog.

Neal, who had never run for office before, was polling even with Hagan less than a month ago and had a number of media endorsements. According to several newspapers, he also won a debate with Hagan when the two squared off at the University of North Carolina.

Hagan began to pull ahead, however, when the money she got from the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee enabled her to flood the airwaves with ads that Neal could not match.

In addition to money, the DSCC endorsement brings Democratic party luminaries and support from other senators.

Hagan declined to answer questions on LGBT issues, although she has sponsored transgender inclusive non-discrimination bills in the state legislature.

Neal’s candidacy was not without controversy within the LGBT community, however. He was not endorsed by any national LGBT political group, causing a fracas.

“Maybe I’m not gay enough,” Neal told the Washington Blade when asked why the Human Rights Campaign didn’t give him the nod with 14 other Senate candidates they endorsed last month.

HRC responded in the same article that they generally don’t endorse in primary races, and that Hagan “has a good record.”

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund also passed on Neal, partly because he has not held elected office before.

Pam Spaulding, a North Carolina lesbian blogger and Neal supporter, had harsh words for the Washington political organizations after his defeat.

“There is an imbalance when there cannot be room for supporting progress regardless of outcome in red states,” wrote Spaulding.

“[Neal’s loss] becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she continued.

“And you know there are folks in the ivory tower in DC gloating over the margin of victory, full of bravado of the ‘I told you so,’ ” Spaulding continued. “Well guess what--that attitude is part of the problem you have with the grass roots. Get out of the sterile, self-stroking environment; it’s not becoming.”

Spaulding concluded, “This race was so important to the LGBT community here, and no one left downtrodden about the race Jim ran, because we know that we moved the ball forward even without the help from those who say that they speak for us.”

“Our civil rights issues are no longer in the closet in an N.C. political race,” Spaulding said.

“We didn’t win this election,” said Neal to supporters, “but I gotta tell you, we did shake the foundation of the political system of North Carolina.”

“And we did so for the betterment of everybody in North Carolina. Everybody in North Carolina will wake up richer tomorrow morning having had the experience of being touched by our campaign,” Neal said.

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