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Good News, Bad Timing for DSCC on North Carolina Race

In what appears to be a case of right news, wrong timing for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, word began to leak out Tuesday that former North Carolina state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D) has decided to reverse an earlier decision and will challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R) in 2010.

The decision is a victory for the DSCC, which has been working to get Cunningham to reconsider the contest after he passed on the race in mid-November. The only problem is that the news leaked out on the same day that North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D), who is also competing in the 2010 Senate primary, was holding a funeral for her husband, who died last week at the age of 77.

“It’s pretty tasteless to leak or announce you’re running on the day that Secretary Marshall’s dealing with her husband’s funeral,— Marshall consultant Thomas Mills said. “But if he is running, this is all about D.C. money. He’s waited until he got the approval of D.C. power brokers — that’s not a very good indication of the type of Senator he would make.—

Marshall joined the Senate contest in September but has never been embraced at the national level. Some officials in Marshall’s camp have expressed confusion as to why the four-time statewide elected official seems to have been passed over by the DSCC, even after several highly touted recruits declined to challenge Burr.

In the wake of Rep. Bob Etheridge’s (D) decision to skip the Senate race last month, Marshall’s camp mounted a public relations campaign in state and national media to show her strength as a candidate.

Some insiders have speculated that part of the reason she hasn’t become the choice of party insiders is because when Marshall ran for Senate in the 2002 open-seat race she finished a disappointing third in the Democratic primary. But perhaps national officials were simply more taken with Cunningham’s profile coming off the 2008 election of Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who was also a former state Senator. Cunningham, a lawyer who also served in the Iraq War, is popular among progressives in the Tar Heel State. He had been quietly putting together a campaign organization with the help of the DSCC in recent months before he decided to pass on the race. About a week ago, word began to circulate in North Carolina Democratic circles that Cunningham was reconsidering his earlier decision.

Cunningham could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz declined to discuss a Cunningham candidacy on Tuesday but did take the chance to take a shot at Burr.

“Richard Burr is one of the most vulnerable members of the Republican caucus this cycle,— Schultz said. “His record of blocking much-needed health insurance reform is only the latest example of him standing up for special interests instead of North Carolinians — and it’s why he’s going to have a real race next November.—

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