By Paul B. Johnson

Former Democratic state legislator Cal Cunningham made it official Monday, announcing he will switch from a previously announced bid for lieutenant governor to seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.

In an emailed statement, Cunningham said he's decided to run for the Senate next year after hearing from people across the state.

"I've decided to answer that call to serve and enter this race," said Cunningham, who had previously announced this past January he would run for lieutenant governor.

Cunningham told The High Point Enterprise that his campaigning since the first of the year compelled him to switch contests. He said he's appeared at more than 100 events in more than 70 counties since January.

"Every time we turned around, the underlying fundamental issue was Washington being completely out of touch," he told The Enterprise. "As people have raised questions with me about prescription drugs, college affordability and gun violence, it comes back to a corrupt and broken Washington. Those questions have come to a crescendo, and it's time for somebody to do something about it."

Cunningham, who grew up and lived in Lexington before moving to Raleigh a year ago, previously ran for the Senate nine years ago. He fell short in the Democratic primary, which was won by N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in the spring of 2010. Marshall then lost the general election race to Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

So far, Cunningham becomes the highest-profile Democrat to enter the Senate race. Tillis is seeking his second term and already faces a Republican primary challenge from Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker.

Cunningham served one term in the state Senate last decade. When he was elected in 2000 at the age of 27, he was among the youngest legislators ever to serve in the N.C. General Assembly.

Cunningham, who has a background as an attorney and businessman, didn't seek re-election after one term in anticipation of serving in the Iraq war. He has an extensive record of military service as a U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

Party primaries will take place next March, with candidate filing this coming December. The primaries are earlier than the traditional date in May because the General Assembly moved them up in presidential election years to make the state more of a player in the presidential nominating process.

(c)2019 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.)