04/28/08 — Jim Neal trying to catch up to Kay Hagan for Dem's U.S. Senate

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Jim Neal trying to catch up to Kay Hagan for Dem's U.S. Senate

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 28, 2008 1:46 PM

Running in what he considers to be one of the state's "defining races," Jim Neal is confident he is drawing closer to his opponent for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Elizabeth Dole.

Currently, though, Public Policy Polling is showing him as trailing Kay Hagan, 35 percent to 8 percent.

However -- and this is the key fact Neal is hanging his hat on -- 47 percent of voters say they are undecided.

"It's going to come down to the wire," he said.

But what he believes will ultimately put him ahead is the fact that unlike Mrs. Hagan, he considers himself to be a relative newcomer to politics.

"(State) Sen. Hagan is a product of a culture of politics," said Neal, an investment banker and former Democratic presidential fundraiser. "She's what I would call a professional political operative at a time when the American people are sick and tired of political operatives.

"I believe voters are looking for people stepping up with fresh ideas and new faces."

And he believes he is the candidate who best represents those new ideas.

On the issue of taxation, he accuses Mrs. Hagan of supporting tax cuts for the wealthy during her decade in the state Senate although on her campaign Web site she opposes tax cuts for the wealthy.

He also faults her for what he described as her refusal to denounce the appointment of Michael Mukasey as U.S. attorney general because of his refusal to take a stand against waterboarding as a form of torture.

And he criticizes her for what he calls her support of retroactive immunity for telephone companies involved in the illegal surveillance of American citizens, and her lack of support for the expansion of the federal State Children's Health Insurance Program -- although again on her Web site, she touts her work in expanding children's health insurance on the state level.

For Neal, the bottom line, though, is that he believes he is more representative of the Democratic Party's values than Mrs. Hagan.

"Sen. Hagan, in each of these instances, is just like Sen. Dole," he said. "And when the choice is between two Republicans, I think folks will vote for the real Republican every time."

But, Neal continued, if he is elected, his top priority will be the economy -- just like it is for most of North Carolina's residents who fear losing their homes, losing their jobs or slipping into poverty if hit with an unexpected medical cost or other emergency.

"People are just being hammered across the board in so many different ways," he said. "But this is the year of the voter."

And that means that issues like health care, Iraq and illegal immigration are going to have to be addressed.

In terms of health care, he explained that by emphasizing preventive medicine and finding ways to use technology to cut administrative costs, they should be able to reduce much of the price consumers pay.

"It's simply a mandate the federal government is going to have to make," he said.

In terms of Iraq, he believes it's time for American troops to leave, and time for Congress to use its power of the purse to begin that process.

"I believe it's time to get out of Iraq, and as a member of Congress, I'm not going to vote for a blanket funding of the war without the administration coming to the table," he said. "Nobody's going to leave the troops so they can't do their job and be safe, we just want to bring our troops home and bring them home safely."

And finally, in terms of immigration, while disagreeing with "amnesty," he does believe there should be some way to not only secure borders but also allow illegal immigrants a path toward legalization.

"It's just become a political football," he said.

But that, too, is something he wants to fight against -- the polarized gridlock in Washington D.C.

"My entire life I've been a political junkie, and I've always wanted to run for elected office," Neal, 51, said. "I believe in our democracy, but I also believe that right now it's working for the few, not for the many.

"I really truly believe there is still a place for a statesman in politics and that's what I want to be."