Daniel Blue III has been involved with two things for almost his entire life: politics and Duke.

“Duke got a head start. I was born at Duke while my dad was finishing law school,” Blue said. “I grew up around politics. My dad was in politics, was elected to office when I was six. I have memories of, as a very young child, waving yard signs. I grew up in a household that put a premium on public service.”

Blue, who received three degrees from Duke, won the Democratic nomination for North Carolina treasurer in March and is locked in a tight general election race with Republican nominee Dale Folwell. His campaign is centered around three primary policy points—healthcare, investments and infrastructure. His time at Duke, he said, prepared him to address all three.

The primary responsibilities of the North Carolina Treasurer are managing the state’s $90 billion pension fund, 700,000-member state health plan and the Local Government Commission, Blue explained.

“My Duke experience touches on all of those,” he said. “I’ve been an investment banker. I’ve started healthcare companies focused on reducing the cost of care. The last seven years I have practiced as a bond attorney. I have worked with the state to raise money for highways and with private universities to raise money for their dormitories, their laboratories and their infrastructure.”

Blue is the son of North Carolina politician Daniel Blue, Jr., Law School '73, who currently serves as minority leader in the State Senate. The older Blue, who has also served as chair of Duke's Board of Trustees, was first elected to the state’s House of Representatives in 1980 and was elected Speaker of the House in 1991. The younger Blue cites his father’s role in state politics as a contributing factor to his similar interests. 

Blue earned his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering, with a minor in public policy, at Duke in 1995. He explored the pharmaceutical industry for a few years before returning to the University to earn graduate degrees in law and business in 2001.

“I didn’t anticipate going into politics at any point,” he said. “In fact, I moved to New York to be an investment banker.”

It did not take too long, however, before he “came back home” to North Carolina politics. He travelled back to assist with his father’s campaign for the United States Senate. Although his father was not successful, Blue credits the campaign for giving him “a taste for the larger political theater here in North Carolina.”

Blue moved back to North Carolina in 2007 and became involved with the presidential campaign and party politics. Now, after a seven-year stint with his family’s law firm, Blue is seeking political office for himself. 

When Democratic Incumbent Janet Cowell announced that she was not seeking reelection to her position in 2016, a void was created, said Blue. He was approached by people who encouraged him to seek the position by telling him how the office offers opportunities to speak on intelligent investment, the future of people’s retirements and healthcare funding.

“The more I thought about it, I realized that the treasurer’s office is an excellent place to push for better policies for North Carolina,” he said.

Among these policies, Blue has proposed a plan to alleviate student debt for North Carolinians.

"A lot of our students who have graduated are being held back by the debt that they are dealing with,” he said. “They are delaying their home purchases, they aren’t starting companies, they aren’t putting away for their own retirement. They are not being as productive in their communities as they could be, and the treasurers’ office can do something about that.”

Hillary Clinton recently unveiled a college debt plan designed to assist 122,000 North Carolina students, which Blue says he supports fully. Because his plan is heavily reliant on funding from the North Carolina General Assembly that would be negotiated after he takes office, he does not have concrete numbers as to how many students would be affected by his efforts. However, Blue did say his plan would "dovetail" with Clinton’s.

Blue advocates investment transparency and said it would be his responsibility to ensure that Wall Street is open with how North Carolinians' public pension funds are being invested. Additionally, he said the recent flood stemming from Hurricane Matthew illustrates the need for an increase in the state’s infrastructural investment.

One of Blue's biggest concerns is stabilizing healthcare costs. The state-run healthcare plan, operated by the office of the treasurer, is responsible for the care of more than 700,000 citizens and state employees—seven to eight percent of North Carolina’s population.

“We have to make sure we are paying for the healthcare that our employees are relying on,” he said. “Long-term, we are going to have to do more than just pinch pennies to cut costs, we’ve got to make sure we are focused on the health of our members.”

'Neck-to-neck'

Before any of his policies can be implemented, Blue must win his general election race against Republican nominee Dale Folwell—a 2005 to 2013 member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, where he also served as speaker pro tempore for his last two years. 

Folwell was unopposed in the Republican primary for treasurer this year. Blue won his Democratic primary matchup with Ron Elmer in March with 58 percent of the vote.

The two general election nominees are locked in a “neck-to-neck” race, said Blue, with polling showing them as tied or within the margin of error. An August survey by Public Policy Polling showed the candidate’s separated by only a 2 percent margin.

“I think this is going to be a challenging race,” said Blue. “I hope in the end my message will resonate with North Carolina voters, and I will be successful on November 8.”

He emphasized that it is "absolutely critical" for Duke students to vote in the general election. With ten days of early voting on-campus and same-day registration available, Blue said there is no excuse to not vote.

“Students at Duke have skin in the game,” he said. “They have an interest in making sure that the state they are attending school in is welcoming, is progressive and is a state that is moving in the right direction. Because these races are so tight they have an excellent opportunity to weigh in on that and make their voices heard.”

Correction: North Carolina's pension fund is currently at $90 billion, not $90 million as previously reported. The Chronicle regrets the error.