- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 18, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s 2020 U.S. Senate race expanded Tuesday as another former North Carolina state legislator with a military background and previous statewide campaign experience officially joined the Democratic field.

Eric Mansfield filed the paperwork to be a candidate seeking to unseat Republican incumbent Thom Tillis. It came the day after another former state lawmaker - Cal Cunningham - announced he was getting into the race. Mansfield had created an exploratory campaign committee two months ago.

Now at least four Democrats are running to succeed Tillis, whose defeat would be a major pickup for Democrats trying to take control of the Senate.

Mansfield, 54, was a state senator in 2011 and 2012 and has U.S. Army experience, serving as a physician and deployed to Kosovo. He’s now an ear, nose and throat surgeon living in Holly Springs, just south of Raleigh, and is an ordained Baptist pastor. Mansfield also ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2012, losing to Linda Coleman in the Democratic primary.

“I’m running for the United States Senate because there’s a sickness in our politics and I believe we can do better,” Mansfield says in his introductory campaign video , which had footage of the White House - a reference to President Donald Trump. “Our elected leaders should reflect the values of our communities and neighborhoods. They should represent the greatness of our nation.”

Cunningham is also a former state senator and current Army Reserve officer and Iraq War veteran who lost a runoff in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 2010. He was running for lieutenant governor this year until he switched races this week.

Within hours of his announcement, Cunningham unveiled endorsements from former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who lost to Tillis in 2014, and from a few other key Democrats. Mansfield offered an endorsement Tuesday from former state Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand. He and Mansfield both represented Fayetteville in the legislature.

In the campaign video, Mansfield recalled his near-death experience last year. He was driving after a gym workout when his heart went into ventricular fibrillation. He said his car struck a tree and a rescue squad restarted his heart. In the video, he says that thanks to a good Samaritan who initially found him, today he’s stronger than ever and feels “a renewed responsibility to help others.”

Mansfield’s video contained no mention of Tillis, who already has two Republican primary opponents in retired Raleigh financier Garland Tucker and Sandy Smith of Winterville.

The other declared Democratic candidates are current state Sen. Erica Smith of Northampton County and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller. Neither has run in a statewide race before.

While Mansfield outraised Coleman in their lieutenant governor’s primary, monetary demands will be much greater in a U.S. Senate race.

Cunningham is one of several people talked to by national Democrats who were seeking a high-profile candidate and prolific fundraiser in the race. He reported raising $315,000 for the lieutenant governor’s race through December, but that money will be difficult to transfer to his U.S. Senate committee.

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