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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Candidate Jim Neal draws tiny crowd

On Feb.12, Jim Neal, running for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina, came to Guilford to meet students and talk about his campaign. At first glance Jim Neal looked like any politician: close-cropped hair, navy suit, and a solid Democrat-blue tie. He introduced himself formally to the small group of students in Boren Lounge; he was born in Greensboro to a family of mill workers struggling to become middle class. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and went on to the University of Chicago to get his M.A. in business and became an investment banker while raising two sons as a single parent.

While his story sounds like the background of every politician trying to ring true with their middle-class, salt-of-the-earth local constituency that was where the sound bites ended. After the formalities, Neal promptly took off his jacket, loosened the blue tie, and let us direct the discussion.

For me, what went unsaid gave the best impression about Neal. Many candidates have progressive views and claim they want to make radical changes and restore fairness and equality. But Neal didn’t rant about his opponent, or give out buttons and tote bags, or even a power point presentation. He urged us to ask questions on issues that we thought were important. The lack of high-profile hype was a refreshing departure from the media saturation of the presidential race.

However, the usual range of topics was brought up: immigration, climate change, education, health care, and campaign finance reform. His stance on national issues was progressive; he was against privatizing health care, against the Iraq War, and in favor of establishing a crash program for energy independence.

In North Carolina, he felt people were most concerned with the economy and immigration. Neal expressed that he does not believe in exporting jobs overseas and that the first step for dealing with immigration is not building a wall across the border, but finding people who moved here legally but are staying on expired visas.

I won’t give an in-depth account of how Neal addressed these issues, but since only about eight people including myself showed up to the event it’s hard not to ramble down a list of issues.

The meeting was an example of the central problem in Neal’s campaign; not many people know who he is or where he stands on the issues. He is a first-time candidate going up against the incumbent Republican senator, Elizabeth Dole. His campaign is more or less grassroots, with most of the money he raises coming from small online donations and his own personal savings. He came to Guilford as part of a tour; he had just left Raleigh and was in a hurry to get to a speaking engagement at NC A & T. He was accompanied by a young, harried aide that scurried around handing out petitions to sign and searched frantically for voter registration slips, which he had forgotten to bring. Neal rolled his eyes and jokingly assured us he’d yell at the kid later.

Neal did not bring up that he is the first openly gay man in North Carolina running for Senate. A fact one might think of as a major selling point for a bunch of liberal Guilford students. However, no one at the meeting brought it up, so Neal didn’t either. He tried very hard to address our questions, with only a couple of digressions on civil service – which he thinks should remain voluntary – and education – which he feels the government needs a bigger long-term monetary investment in.

The evening was not spent lambasting Senator Dole, nor did her name come up until the end when Neal was discussing differences the two had on immigration policy. He urged us to go to her website and check out her stances on the issues.

He did not name a certain politician who offered him the use of his ski lodge for a weekend if Neal paid him a sizable campaign contribution. When he talked about the corrupt nature of campaigning and partisan politics, he got visibly annoyed and refrained from letting a few curses slip.

The evening was informal, brief, and just a little bit disorganized. But as we are currently bombarded with flashy campaigns and snappy slogans, it was nice to meet a guy who would answer a direct question and still say a “thank you” before heading out to do it all over again.

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