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Bowles leads Dems' Senate bid

With the primary only four days away, Democratic contenders for the U.S. Senate are campaigning hard all over North Carolina, making their faces known and voices heard. The need to fill current Republican Sen. Jesse Helms' seat has left Democrats in a very competitive race for the primary.

Improving education and the economy have emerged as the main issues in the race for the Democratic nomination, and although a frontrunner has not emerged as clearly as Elizabeth Dole has in the Republican primary, several tiers have surfaced.

Analysts place Erskine Bowles, a one-time aide to former president Bill Clinton, as the frontrunner in the primary, largely because of his experience in national government and financial resources. Former N.C. House speaker Dan Blue and current N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall are predicted to make up a second tier at the polls, along with Cynthia Brown, a former member of the Durham City Council.

"As White House chief of staff, [Bowles] has been largely credited with having put together the first balanced budget in a generation," said Susan Legano, his press secretary.

Even though Bowles is in favor of providing prescription drugs for seniors--major issue in many national campaigns--he wants to reduce the price of drugs across the board. His strategy includes getting generic drugs into the market sooner, importing drugs from Canada, and capping the amount of money allowed for advertising drugs.

Bowles is generally supportive of President George W. Bush's foreign policy, and Bowles' platform also highlights creating jobs and preventing the privatization of Social Security.

"He is in favor of making job training more accessible. Critical to job creation is improving our public schools and making college affordable," Legano said.

Meanwhile, Blue, Law '73, and Marshall are the two most likely challengers to Bowles' campaign.

"[Blue's] 22 years of legislative leadership in the state congress and his incredibly strong ties to North Carolina make him the strongest candidate for this office," said Cecil Cahoon, a Blue campaign spokesperson.

Part of his work in the Legislature included attracting and retaining companies that provide high-paying jobs to more underdeveloped parts of the state. Blue opposes the North American Free Trade Agreement due to the number of jobs he says it has cost North Carolinians.

"He has an unparalleled track record of improving working conditions, salaries and benefits for educators in the school systems," Cahoon said.

In foreign policy issues, Blue's stance has not been clearly defined. "He is waiting to hear the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq before making a decision on whether or not it is absolutely necessary," Cahoon said.

Marshall is the only candidate in the race to have been elected twice to a statewide office. She said she feels this experience is her biggest advantage.

"Since I started my career as a classroom teacher and worked in community colleges, I will always believe that education is the underpinning of society and the economy," she said. Marshall said she believes there needs to be an increase in teacher salaries, a decrease in class size and an increase in the number and quality of school facilities.

"This can be done by job training at community colleges, which the federal government needs to invest in," she said.

As for foreign policy, Marshall favors a more nonviolent policy than Bush does, particularly concerning the potential war with Iraq. "Our president is moving forward without the support of our allies. I don't believe we know enough to go forward with Iraq at this point," she said.

Durham has its own hometown candidate in Cynthia Brown, who says what separates her from the others in the primary is that she is "the most aggressive candidate."

"I'm the only person in this race willing to say that $8.50 should be the minimum wage, that what we have right now is below poverty wage," she said.

One of the main issues on Brown's agenda is to ensure that people are able to secure a good quality of life through affordable housing and childcare. She favors creating a universal health care system based on the models of Canada and other countries. Such a system, Brown said, would be funded by using a percentage of income from individuals, businesses and the government.

"My biggest advantage is that I don't have a lot of contributors that I will have to answer to if I win the election. The only thing I have to answer to is the people," she said.

The Durham People's Alliance, a local organization that lobbies to correct social and economic inequalities, narrowly decided to endorse Marshall over Brown.

"Cynthia Brown was our other choice and the race ended up being very tight," said Randall Gilbert, a staff member at the organization. "Elaine Marshall was in our eyes the most progressive yet viable candidate."

The North Carolina National Organization for Women decided to endorse Marshall in February.

"Elaine Marshall has always voted in favor of women on economic, violence and reproductive rights issues," said Ellen Willis, president of North Carolina NOW.

Although Duke Democrats' charter prevents the group from endorsing a candidate before the primary, President Jonathan Morris said he supports Bowles.

"I think Bowles has the best chance against Elizabeth Dole," said Morris, a senior. "He has experience in the federal government. He's very intelligent and well-equipped to deal with economic issues."

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