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Dole, GOP challenger Di Lauro contrast sharply

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
The contrast between North Carolina’s Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate couldn’t be much sharper.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, 71, has been a national political figure for four decades. When she was elected in 2002 to replace the retiring political icon Jesse Helms, she became the first woman U.S. senator in North Carolina history.
Dole has held two U.S. Cabinet positions, was president of the American Red Cross, ran as a Republican presidential candidate in 1999 and is married to former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican nominee for president in 1996.
Her opponent in the primary is Pete Di Lauro, a former U.S. Marine and retired New York City police officer who moved to North Carolina in 1996.
Di Lauro stands 6-4 and weighs 240 pounds and has never held a political office. He’s spending little money in the primary and making virtually no campaign appearances.
But Di Lauro says he is the person who could make real changes in Washington. Voters and the politicians seeking their support always say they want change, so why does the country keep electing the Doles, Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons of the political world, Di Lauro asks.
“The country needs me to go to Congress and straighten things out a bit,” he says.
Di Lauro also expresses frustration with an election process that from the day he filed doesn’t give him a chance of winning the May 6 primary.
He says he has been ignored and even ridiculed. One day he had a reporter spend six hours with him, but the bottom-line story, Di Lauro says, was that Dole was looking past the primary toward the general election.
“Everybody says you don’t have a chance,” he says. “Why don’t I have a chance? Whose opinion is that?”
Public Policy Polling of Raleigh has consistently shown Dole, a Salisbury native who maintains a home here, way ahead in its regular surveys of likely Republican primary voters.
A survey released April 15 of 530 voters showed Dole favored by an 81-12 percent margin.
A recent Charlotte Observer/WCNC Poll had Dole with the support of 63 percent of the GOP voters; Di Lauro, 5 percent. The rest were undecided.
North Carolina could be a battleground state this fall, and the Dole campaign has been saving its war chest for the general election.
Dole says the Democratic Senatorial Committee has raised a lot of funds nationally and she would not be surprised to see “money coming in from the outside.”
While nothing has been discussed to this point, Dole says she would welcome campaigning in North Carolina with likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain, with whom she serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Dole sometimes has criticized the Bush administration for making mistakes in Iraq.
She supported a measure calling for the troops to transition to a more limited set of missions by Dec. 15 and cosponsored the legislation that requires a report on the status of redeployment planning from the administration.
Supporting military personnel and their families has been a focus for Dole on the Armed Services Committee. She led the legislation to extend the Family and Medical Leave Act for up to six months for spouses, sons, daughters, parents and next of kin of Armed Forces members.
In the Senate, Dole has opposed amnesty for illegal aliens.
“What I am for is securing the borders, which was not done in 1985,” she said. Existing laws also have to be enforced, she said.
Dole voted earlier this year for the economic stimulus package that will provide tax rebates to Americans.
Dole describes herself as a mission-oriented person and when asked to name some of her prouder accomplishments as a U.S. senator, she lists the $4 billion tobacco buyout, which she believes prevented many farm bankruptcies, and her work to keep N.C. military bases open during the 2005 realignment.
“We came through, I think, with flying colors,” Dole says, noting that Fort Bragg even expanded by 8,900 new jobs.
She also touts her work as a “facilitator.”
Dole has toured the state over the past year meeting with county sheriffs and delivering a statewide plan to expand the 287 (g) program, which provides local law enforcement officers with training, resources and authority to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement apprehend and deport criminal illegal aliens.
“We’re the only state to have that kind of partnership,” she says.
Dole says she has secured $57 million toward getting U.S. Customs to oversee textile transshipments enforcement. Overall, she adds, she has made the Bush administration toe the line on making sure trade agreements are fair and enforced.
She also bucked a Bush administration policy by securing a yearlong moratorium and preventing N.C. hospitals from losing $330 million in 2007 for services provided to poor and low-income patients.
Di Lauro, 60, says his life experiences are unique and “not the stuff of privilege.”
His four years in the U.S. Marine Corps came during the Vietnam War. He served as a New York City police officer for three-and-a-half years.
He ran for New Jersey governor in 1993 as part of the Common Sense Government party and came in seventh out of 19 candidates. When Ross Perot campaigned in New Jersey as a presidential candidate, he served as a personal bodyguard for the Texan and belonged to Perot’s state chapter of United We Stand.
Di Lauro ran for Weldon (Halifax County) town commissioner last year but was not elected.
He has seven children, three of whom are grown and four who are divided between Christian and charter schools and are living with him.
Di Lauro has a Web site, a page set up several years ago. He also has tried a blog in the past.
The Web site is set up as an open letter whose theme is, “If they’re in, vote them out. Give someone else a chance.”
Di Lauro says he waited until the last minute to file at the State Board of Elections office, putting his name out there and taking a chance, he says.
“This country needs me there, just like it needed me as a Marine and as a cop,” Di Lauro says. “I think I bring a unique common sense ability to deal with everything. Something they’re not doing.”
Di Lauro has never met Dole and, during the primary season, has shunned virtually all travel to various political gatherings across the state. When he ran for governor in New Jersey, he would travel four hours back and forth to a function and get to speak for two minutes in front of a handful of people. He wasn’t going to do that again, he says.
Di Lauro writes a letter of apology to the organization who invites him, includes a “flyer” and encourages them to “make a choice.”
Di Lauro knows what it’s like to have “mortars and rockets dropped on me,” he says. He calls on the United States, after more than 4,000 deaths and tens of thousands wounded in Iraq, to pull its forces out of harm’s way.
“The fact that Iraq is not paying for this war and we are is insane,” he says. “Bush says we have to stay there and protect our interests. What are our interests? … We can’t afford to take care of 12 million people.”
As for Dole, Di Lauro asks what has she done in her political career beyond championing a back brake light on vehicles and, as a senator, giving out checks and grants.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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