Democratic challenger for Elizabeth Dole's U.S. Senate seat
in North Carolina came out over the weekend in an
Jim Neal, the
head of a Chapel Hill, N.C., corporate financial
advisory firm, announced October 4 that he would seek the
Democratic nomination, but he did not mention his
sexual orientation at that time. Neal, 50, was
previously married and has two sons.
progressive political blog BlueNC.com, Neal responded to a
participant who said he heard that Neal is gay.
"I am indeed,"
Neal answered. "No secret and no big deal to me -- I
wouldn't be running if I didn't think otherwise."
If successful in
his bid to unseat first-term senator Elizabeth Dole,
Neal would be the first openly gay person in the U.S.
Senate, though he would not be the only out
officeholder from North Carolina. Lesbian state
senator Julia Boseman was elected to the general assembly in
insiders contend that Dole is vulnerable, due to her
unwavering support of President Bush's policies and a poor
showing by Republicans when she led the National
Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2006 elections.
On gay issues, Dole is consistently conservative: She
has supported a constitutional amendment prohibiting
same-sex marriage and has expressed opposition to
ENDA, the federal bill to extend workplace protections
to gays and lesbians. A Elon University poll recently
put Dole's job approval rating at 50%.
Unlike Dole, Neal
appeared to affirm support for same-sex marriage,
framing it as an issue of discrimination.
"It's OK if
churches want to unite same-sex couples," he said in
the online conference. "It's OK if they don't. That's their
constitutional right, which I support 100%. But when it
comes to the government, I'm not in favor of any laws
that discriminate against anyone for any reason."
vulnerability, prominent North Carolina Democrats have
declined to challenge her. Gov. Mike Easley, Atty.
Gen. Roy Cooper, and U.S. representative Brad
Miller have all declined to throw their hats in the
Neal asserted his
confidence that a gay man could win in the South. "I'm
not running this race to lose. I'm not running to make some
social statement," he said in the forum. "I'm running to
lead in the Senate for the voters in North
Carolina -- something Senator Dole has not done.
When people meet me, they'll see beyond the labels and
into my character."
may depend on whether the Republicans intend to make his
sexuality an issue, says Pam Spaulding, a North Carolina
resident and editor of the political LGBT-oriented
blog Pam's House Blend.
"The rural areas
of this state are quite conservative, and a negative
campaign based on his sexuality will play well there," she
told Gay.com. "The urban areas are more progressive
and are likely to vote on the issues. It also depends
on what kind of support he receives from the
Carolina Democratic Party, for its part, will not say how
much it expects Neal's sexual orientation to become a
campaign issue, but it has stated there is a potential
for other candidates to get into the race.
"We are an open
and inclusive party. We welcome candidates from
diverse backgrounds," state party spokeswoman Kerra Bolton
told Gay.com on Monday. "We trust voters to make
informed decisions based on Elizabeth Dole's record of
failing North Carolina."
Though Neal has
never held elected office, he worked as national
fund-raiser for Erskine Bowles's 2004 Senate campaign and
full-time fundraiser for the presidential campaigns of
retired Army general Wesley Clark and U.S. senator
John Kerry in 2004.
In response to
one forum participant's warning that the right wing would
be after him, Neal replied, "I'm a big boy. I can take it
and I can dish it." (Larry Buhl, Gay.com)