U.S. Senate

Even by its own recalcitrant standards, the Senate in the last two years has been a freak show of obstruction and destructive partisanship. If a Democrat wants it, whatever it is, Republicans clap their hands over their ears and block it with secret holds, endless delays and threatened filibustersand Senate rules let them get away with it. (Meanwhile, special interests from Big Oil to Wall Street cheer and pour cash into GOP campaigns.)

If this strikes you as cool, then Sen. Richard Burr is your man. He’s a reliable roadblock in the way of everything President Obama proposes, even refusing to vote for extended unemployment benefits for folks who lost their jobs in the Great Recession that was brought to us by, yes, George W. Bush and Republicans like Burr. As part of the Republican effort to block health care reform, Burr went so far as to prevent a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting in March, citing an obscure Senate rule against afternoon hearings. Like his party, it’s clear Burr will do anything to stall the Senate while Democrats hold the majority.

WE ENDORSE Democrat Elaine Marshall, whose strong record of public service as a state legislator and as secretary of state for the past 14 years assures that she will represent North Carolinians in the Senate, not special interests and multinational corporations. Unlike Burr, Marshall’s proven that she can think for herself, as in her early and forceful opposition to Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan. Where she thinks Obama is right, however, she’ll support himas in the case of ending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, a $700 billion Republican boondoggle that the country simply can’t afford. (Burr: Pro-boondoggle.)

Pros: Marshall is one of the least puffed-up politicians you’ll meet. She still has a lot of 4-H farm girl in her and comes at issues from the standpoint of working people and small businesses.

Cons: A hard-fought Democratic primary campaign sharpened Marshall’s knowledge of national issues, but it left her broke for the fall campaign. She’s campaigning hard, but you’d never know it from the lack of media attention to her or, for that matter, to Burraside from Burr’s TV commercials, that is.

Also a good choice: Dr. Michael Beitler, the Libertarian Party nominee, is a free-market freethinker. He favors legalizing marijuana for medical uses (the N.C. Cannabis Patients Network endorsed him) and denounced the right-wing, including Burr, for their spurious campaign against an Islamic center (their so-called victory mosque) in Lower Manhattan. He’s a better choice for conservatives than Burr.

Other endorsements: Marshall: League of Conservation Voters (LCV). Burr: National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Campaign finance: Quarterly reports are due Oct. 15, but so far Burr has raised $9 million, compared with $1.1 million for Marshall and $3,200 for Beitler. (Source: Center for Responsive Politics)

Top contributors, Burr: pharmaceutical/ health $1.1 million; banking/ investment, $1.2 million. Koch Industries gave $37,500 to Burr’s Leadership PAC. Marshall: ActBlue, a Democratic political action committee, $15,000; labor unions, $37,000.

U.S. House, District 2

Look up conservative Democrat in your political dictionary and the examples should include Bob Etheridge. A fixture in Democratic politics in North Carolina since he was first elected a Harnett County commissioner in 1973, Etheridge has survived and advancedto the Legislature, to superintendent of public instruction and, in 1996, to Congressby planting himself wherever the middle seemed to be on every issue. Sticking his neck out is a habit he’s never cultivated. On the powerful budget committee, his preoccupation is usually how to increase federal farm subsidies70 percent of which go to the top 10 percent of farmers (read: agribusiness.)

That said, Etheridge cast a good voteand a tough vote, given his conservative districtin favor of the 2010 health care reform law. Other similarly situated N.C. DemocratsReps. Mike McIntyre, Larry Kissell and Heath Shulervoted no. So Etheridge made himself a target for national Republican campaign efforts, especially given that his opponent, GOP nominee Renee Ellmers, is a nurse and the owner of a health care practice in Dunn with her physician husband.

We trust that Ellmers is a better nurse than candidate, however. Since winning the nomination, she’s spouted off like a teakettle about such nonissues as the plan for an Islamic center and mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan.

WE ENDORSE Etheridge and encourage him to take advantage of his seniority by showing leadership on other issues besides farming. Clearly, if he’s re-elected in this difficult year, it should free him to be bolder as he approaches his fifth decade in elected office.

Pros: In this heavily rural, conservative district, Etheridge is probably as progressive as he can be and still get elected.

Cons: He doesn’t like being challenged, and he behaved very badlybehavior for which, to his credit, he apologized within hourswhen accosted by camera-wielding Republican operatives on the street in Washington. Weak.

Other choices: There are libertarians and libertarians. Tom Rose, the Libertarian candidate here, is from the know-nothing wing of his party, the ones who want to repeal the 20th century.

Other endorsements: Ellmers: SarahPAC (Sarah Palin), FreedomWorks PAC; Etheridge: N.C. State AFL-CIO; N.C. Association of Educators.

Campaign finance: Etheridge has raised $909,000; Ellmers has raised $188,000. Top contributors, Etheridge: agribusiness, $155,000; health, $117,000. Ellmers: financial/ real estate, $21,650; Susan B Anthony List, an anti-abortion PAC, $2,000. Tom Rose: no report.

U.S. House, District 4

Such an enigma, B.J. Lawson. When the Republican challenger from Cary ran against incumbent David Price in 2008, he made sense on some issues. Not monetary policy or health care, but at least he opposed the death penalty and didn’t freak out at the thought of gays and lesbians in the military. He opposed the bio-research lab in Butner, which Price was mum about, to the chagrin of many Dems.

After taking a whipping from Price by nearly a 2-1 margin in 2008, Lawson released a statement in August 2009 saying he wouldn’t run against Price this year. But here Lawson is, going back on his word and mobilizing the grassroots Libertarian wing of the Republican Party. And buoyed by the FreedomWorks/ Americans for Prosperity axis, Lawson is employing their rhetoric of free marketeering, Social Security “Ponzi schemes” and other spurious claims of government tyranny.

WE ENDORSE Price with the same pause we did in 2008: We like your politics, Congressman, but show us some fire. Don’t take the district for granted.

Pros: Price votes for progressive causes. He voted to end tax loopholes that encouraged corporations to ship jobs overseas, voted for health care reform, wrote a bill that would give tax breaks on education loans. He voted against the war in Iraq.

Lawson opposes the death penalty and, as with most Libertarians, thinks sexual orientation is not an issue for the military to be concerned with. Not exactly a repudiation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but as close as it gets for the right. He advocates for quickly withdrawing from Afghanistan. Other benefit: Free pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution, just like liberal Congressman Dennis Kucinich distributes.

Cons: Price fumbled the Indy/ Bull City Rising debate with Lawson. He seemed uninspired and unprepared to match Lawson’s truth-starved rhetoric with pointed, concise facts. You’d think that after 20-plus years representing the district, Price would be more organized.

Lawson has run off the rails in embracing the AFP crowd. Whenever we start hearing him and his followers advocate for dismantling the U.S. Department of Education and the IRS, we have to change the channel. Plus, he said he wouldn’t run and now he is. We don’t know what that means for his other campaign pledges, such as the commitment that he won’t serve more than four two-year terms.

Other endorsements: Price: Veterans of Foreign Wars PAC, N.C. Sheriff Police Alliance. Lawson: FreedomWorks PAC.

Campaign finance: Price has raised $400,000; Lawson, $152,000 (through June).

Top contributors, Price: lawyers, $33,000; labor unions, $29,000; pharamaceuticals/ health care, $21,500. Lawson: health, $18,000; investments/finance, $4,100; Mapleview Farms and Red Hat, $1,000 each.

U.S. House, District 13

Time flies when you’re trying to get things done in Congress. It seems like only yesterday that Brad Miller was a state senator from Raleigh. Yet he’s finishing his fourth term in Congress and he’s getting things done. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Miller played a leading role in writing the Democrats’ banking reform bill, which President Obama signed into law in July. Miller was an outspoken proponent of the need for strong consumer protections against such practices as predatory mortgage lending and payday loans. His efforts helped to assure that the final legislation created an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency now headed by watchdog economist Elizabeth Warren.

The Republican nominee, Bill Randall, retired from the Navy with the highest noncommissioned officer rank. Randall has the erect posture and self-assurance that you’d want in someone preparing for battle. On shore, though, he’s self-righteous, narrow-minded and a bit paranoid, as when he opined at a press conference that the federal government may have colluded with unknown malefactors to cause a BP-scale oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

WE ENDORSE Miller, who has earned a fifth term and is an easy choice for voters who aren’t looking for a right-wing ideologue.

Pros: Miller is also on the House science committee, where he has a hand in the laws governing commercialization of research produced at major research universities like N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke.

Cons: Randall is the second consecutive right-wing African-American Republican to run against Miller. (2008: Vernon Robinson.) When Randall loses, will there be any left?

Other endorsements: Randall: Tea Party PAC, N.C. Right to Life; Miller: N.C. State AFL-CIO, N.C. Association of Educators.

Campaign finance: Miller has raised $600,000 to Randall’s $75,000. Top contributors, Miller: labor unions, $116,000. Randall: Next Century Fund, a Republican leadership PAC, $2,500.