In the May primary, Cunningham, a former state senator and Marshall, North Carolina's secretary of state, emerged as the top two contenders out of a crowded field of six candidates. While Marshall led the pack, she failed to garner the necessary 40 percent to avoid a run-off. Both candidates have visited the Asheville area to campaign during the run-off.
The race is also on the radar of national political observers, due to incumbent Sen. Richard Burr's relatively weak poll numbers. Salon's Natasha Lennard, in her recent analysis of the race, writes that "Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham are heading into Tuesday's runoff with nothing between them -- not even policy" and that the primary issue for Democrats is who stands a better chance in November.
"Issues aren't driving the Democratic race," Lennard writes. "Both candidates are running on broadly centrist platforms; both vow to stand up to Wall Street special interests; both vow to address the state’s high rate of unemployment. The real debate is over electability: whether an attractive young Iraq war vet or a seasoned female politician will fare better against Burr."
Lennard also asserts that both candidates seem to be lagging in money and organization. Despite their similar platforms, she says, their backers are different.
"The DSCC is putting its money on Cunningham. Federal Election Commission reports show he has received $79,980 from the DSCC for this campaign (a considerable portion of his meager $1.2 million campaign donations). Meanwhile, MoveOn and Ken Lewis (the third candidate in the preliminary) have come out in support of Marshall. Of course, the combined war chests of both campaigns are just one-fifth of the approximately $10 million Burr has."
However, she adds that the winner's backing may change if they're seen as having a serious chance of unseating Burr.
From another perspective, the political analysis site FiveThirtyEight assesses the Marshall/Cunningham race (along with primaries throughout the Carolinas), notes that the race is considered a toss-up.
"The only public poll, by PPP on May 12, showed the two candidates tied," FiveThirtyEight writer Ed Kilgore observes. "Marshall is benefiting from grassroots progressive support; Cunningham (an Iraq War vet) was recruited into the race by the DSCC. Turnout is expected to be down well more than a half from the primary, and up to a third of the vote could be ballots cast early."
That means that, whichever way one thinks, every vote counts, even more than usual. If you're a Democrat, an unaffiliated voter that voted in the Democratic primary or haven't voted at all so far, you can cast your ballot in the race. You can find your polling place here.
— David Forbes, senior reporter
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