brian_clareyby Brian Clarey

I wouldn’t have seen it unless someone had left it on my desk, because I don’t live in District 3: a simple campaign mailer from the Committee to Elect Kurt Collins that hit the streets last week.

It’s boilerplate stuff — a quote, some bullet points, a professional headshot.

We see a lot of these come campaign time. But there was something different about this one.

This one had a section about Collins’ opponent, Justin Outling. And while it declined to use his name, the Committee to Elect Kurt Collins felt it appropriate to include a thumbnail shot of the man with the word “opponent” above his mug in stencil font.

Attack campaigns are nothing new either, and framing an opponent’s picture like a mugshot is old hat.

There is something different about Outling, too.

He’s the first African-American to hold a district not specifically cut for minority representation in Greensboro’s history. Because he was appointed to his term when Zack Matheny moved over to Downtown Greensboro Inc., he could be the first ever elected to the office on Tuesday.

He’s not a shoo-in. Outling, a moderate Democrat, took 60 percent of the vote in the primary, which means that 40 percent voted for a conservative. That Republican Michael Picarelli, who came in third that day, threw his support behind Outling may be of little consequence in what will surely be a low-turnout contest.

The results of the election are on page 12, but as of press time, nobody’s really sure who will take it — not enough to gamble on it, anyway.

A more cynical man than I might see the mailer as a desperate act by a man on the bubble, a final reminder going into Election Day that there’s a black guy in this race, and it isn’t Kurt Collins.

But that would be despicable, the kind of politics employed by Jesse Helms that brought shame on our state and sowed inequality among our people.

The old-timers remember well how Helms’ convinced just a slight bit more than half of North Carolina voters that he was One of Us and Nick Galifianakis was not, thereby winning a Senate seat that he held for the next 30 years.

Soft racism used to be a pretty effective tactic in North Carolina politics.

How far we’ve come since then.

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