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Cal Cunningham speaks to FOX8 about how growing up in Lexington shaped his values

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Cal Cunningham is the Democratic challenger in North Carolina’s US Senate race who is running against Republican incumbent Senator Thom Tillis.

Cunningham has called North Carolina home his entire life.

Born in Winston-Salem and raised in Lexington, Cunningham is a proud ambassador for his hometown and wants to be the state’s ambassador in Washington.

He told FOX8 about appreciating the values growing up in Lexington taught him.

“I learned a lot about public service, serving other people. I was active in church and in youth group. We did mission work. I was in Boy Scouts. All of it just about how neighbors look after neighbors,” he said.

Cunningham also shared some of the experiences that developed his worth ethic.

“I used to be the fry guy at the McDonald’s on Highway 8 just north of Lexington. That was a shaping experience. Out in Davidson County, worked at a brick factory that my dad’s brothers were running. Stacked brick, drove a forklift, started at $3.35 cents an hour, so I learned about the value of hard work,” he said.

Cunningham says it wasn’t until later in life that he became interested in political leadership; however, he learned applicable principles watching his father work as a lawyer.

“He would take on some of the biggest companies and insurance interests in the country, and I learned from him that sometimes justice requires a fight,” Cunningham said.

After graduating with an undergraduate and law degree form the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Cunningham and his wife Elizabeth returned to Lexington to raise their two children, Caroline and Will.

Cunningham’s fight in politics includes serving as a North Carolina state senator from 2001 to 2003, representing Davidson, Rowan and Iredell counties.

His fight in uniform came when he joined the US Army Reserve just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Elizabeth and I, we were pregnant with Caroline at the time. She was born the next January. We were both really struck with the question of what type of world we were about to bring our daughter into,” Cunningham said.. “And we knew that in much the same way that throughout life I believed in service, whether its state service or community service, that this was a moment that we as a family needed to respond to.”

Cunningham is still a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve.

When asked about the impact being deployed had on his family, he said that even though they didn’t take the same oath that he did, they served those tours too.

”There was a point after a year at Fort Bragg, extensive training, and then in Iraq, when I came home and I had been away from home for as many days as my son had been alive. I was gone one out of every two days of his life, and that, I think, shaped our family to appreciate each other better and to recognize the sacrifice that others are making,” he said.

As an attorney, Cunningham has practiced in a variety of areas from representing workers who have been injured or gotten sick from exposures in the workplace to real-estate legislation.

Most recently, he started the Raleigh-headquartered environmental company Waste Zero.

“Building a company, being responsible for people’s paychecks, their health insurance, making sure that their workplace is safe has really shaped my adult experience. It’s been a real honor to help build a small business, and I think all of those experiences shape who I am and make me ready to work for North Carolinians in Washington,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham’s hobbies include playing the guitar and long-distance running with his wife. The two have participated in half-marathons and marathons together over the years.

When asked who inspires him, Cunningham says he draws a lot of inspiration from his children.

“One of the reasons I’m even in this campaign is having two teenage kids and seeing them become politically and socially aware and hearing their voices about the need for us to solve some of the problems in front of us,” he said.

Cunningham and his family now live in Raleigh.

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