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Cal Cunningham

“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray,” so wrote Robert Burns, a Scottish poet who, in 1786 was imagining North Carolina’s 2020 race for United States Senate.

The Cunningham vs. Tillis match-up has been highly anticipated because the eventual winner could affect the balance of power in Washington. Former State Senator Cal Cunningham has held a slight lead over incumbent Senator Thom Tillis throughout much of the campaign, but the outcome was anything but certain. Both men spent record amounts of money on T.V. ads, and each one accused the other of all sorts of things, from corruption to being a member of the Communist Party. And while a great number of those ads have been negative, Cunningham has also spent a lot of money touting his sterling character, especially his status as a Bronze-Star-winning veteran and a devoted husband and father. The latest polls showed Cal’s good-guy image ads were working, as he opened up a comfortable lead over Tillis. But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to October.

NationalFile.com, a conservative website, broke the news that Cal had been sexting a PR consultant in California, and, later, the Associated Press reported that the couple even had an intimate encounter here in the Old North State. Meanwhile a former campaign worker came forward to say that Cal had been having an affair with her best friend since 2012, and that her friend was now angry with Cal for his other extra-marital activity. So much for the devoted husband routine. And last week, the military confirmed it was investigating Cunningham ( a Lt. Col. In the Army Reserve) because adultery is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So much for the honorable soldier routine. The combination of these revelations sent Cal into hiding, and avoiding media appearances that he had promised to attend. More on that in a moment.

Ironically, the same day that the NationalFile story broke about Cunningham’s indiscretions, Tillis announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and, like his opponent, he was going to have to disappear from the campaign trail for a while. Politics aside, we all wish Thom a full and speedy recovery. However, the irony within the irony is that Tillis was pushing for a hypocritically speedy confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, and, to celebrate that nomination, Thom and about a hundred of his cohorts attended a crammed-in celebration at the White House. That party turned out to be a mask-less, super spreader venue for COVID-19, with over a dozen attendees contracting the virus within days of the event. Last week Tillis said he regretted not wearing a mask. You think?

OK, so if Thom and his buddies had adhered to their own protocols and held off on Barrett’s nomination until after the election, he would be COVID-free. And if Cal had adhered to his marriage vows, he would be scandal free. “The best laid plans”, and all that.  I won’t pass judgment on Cunningham and Tillis for the personal and political behaviors that back-fired on them, but I will reserve the right to be pissed off that neither man showed up for my Triad Today Voter Education forum last week.

Thom initially said he couldn’t attend the Triad Today taping because he would need to stay in D.C. and vote on the Judge Barrett confirmation. Then he contracted COVID-19, and that kept him away from both the Senate and my TV show. Cunningham, meanwhile, had given me his word that he would show up for the Triad Today session, but on the eve of our taping, the scandal-ridden candidate went into hiding, and said he would not be participating. Bottom line? Thom was M.I.A. from both his job and Triad Today because he hung around with unmasked Barrett supporters, and Cal was M.I.A. because he was afraid to show his face, and reneged on a promise. Tillis showed a lack of judgment. Cunningham showed a lack of character. Postscript, Triad Today went off without a hitch, sans Tillis and Cunningham, and featured conversations with Congressional and Gubernatorial candidates who all kept their word and showed up.

When the campaign for Senate began, Thom and Cal probably thought that the month of October would springboard them into great heights, and voters in each party thought their guy would make them proud. Oh well, the best laid plans…

Jim Longworth is the host of Triad Today, airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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