Published: Jul 29, 2008 07:58 PM
Modified: Jul 29, 2008 07:58 PM
In the game of North Carolina politics Democrats have some young star players who are, right now, just sitting on the bench.
My son got me thinking about how strong that "bench" is when he sent me a link to the blog of Calvin Cunningham, a former state senator, who is now serving as an Army officer in Iraq. (thefocalpoints.blogspot.com/
Cunningham, who will be 35 in a few days, was on a fast track to statewide and perhaps national office when he won election to the state Senate shortly after he graduated from law school. But his career in the state Senate ended when his district was "adjusted" to make it almost impossible for a Democrat to win.
After his first round of elective politics, Cunningham focused on his law practice, his growing family, and service in the Army Reserve. That reserve duty has resulted in multiple tours of duty in Iraq.
If the time comes again for him to run for public office, his political and military experience would make him a serious contender.
There are others in my son's and Cunningham's generation whose initial forays in elective politics have not been successful. But in gaining the rare experience of running statewide campaigns, each of them showed strong character, attractive talents, and resilience.
In 2000, a very young lawyer from Rockingham County ran against Beverly Perdue in the Democratic primary for Lt. Governor. Although, Perdue beat him soundly, Ed Wilson gained lots of friends and admirers. Today he is serving as a superior court judge and is also active in the Army Reserve. Perhaps, the judiciary will be his lifetime career. But should he feel the call to run for statewide office again, I would expect to see a very strong candidate.
J.B. Buxton is another young unsuccessful statewide candidate who would make a strong candidate if he should try again. Buxton finished a strong third in the 2004 Democratic primary for Superintendent of Public Instruction, behind ultimate winner June Atkinson. Buxton remains active in state political and educational matters, currently serving as deputy superintendent.
More recently, Hampton Dellinger lost a hard-fought race to Walter Dalton in the 2008 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. It might be too soon for him to think about another statewide race. But his campaign this year against a tough opponent proved that he has what it takes to be a winning candidate. Dellinger's experience working in the offices of the attorney general and the governor give him assets that many aspiring candidate would covet.
All these current "bench warmers" are about 40 years old. If they think that one political defeat puts an end to their political potential, they should remember the example of our current governor, Mike Easley. His first statewide run, a race against Harvey Gantt in the 2000 Democratic primary, ended in a loss. But that painful defeat turned out to be a steppingstone to later success.
Sometimes the lessons of defeat are better in the long run than those learned in winning. Dr. Charles Hamner, former president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, told me that, when searching for business executives to lead start up biotech businesses, the best candidates were often those whose prior businesses had failed. Why? Because in dealing with the challenges of a struggling, ultimately failing, business, they had shown they could handle they worst situations without breaking or losing their spirits.
D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.