RALEIGH — North Carolina Democrats on Saturday chose a veteran activist, David Parker, to lead the party's comeback effort next year, when it will try to hold on to the governor's mansion and retake the legislature from the Republicans.
Parker, a 56-year-old Statesville attorney, easily turned back a spirited and well-financed challenge from state Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County.
At a meeting of the state Democratic Executive Committee on the N.C. State University campus, Parker received 355 votes compared to 262 votes for Faison and 15 votes for Dannie Montgomery, a party leader from Anson County.
"We are the Democratic Party, and we are alive," Parker told the delegates. "We will fight hard in the reddest counties in the state, like Iredell. We are going to fight hard in the bluest of counties like Orange and Durham, because every vote counts. That is how we are going to carry North Carolina for Barack Obama."
In electing Parker, the Democrats chose a figure who had fought in the Democratic trenches for 30 years - from precinct chairman, to manager of U.S. Sen. Terry Sanford's 1992 re-election campaign, to his present post as Democratic National Committeeman.
"It seems like I've been running for this office since I was 5 years old," Parker quipped after the tally was announced.
He promised to re-emphasize grass-roots politics, to fight what he calls the Republicans' "radical agenda," and refill the party's coffers for the 2012 election.
During his campaign for chairman, Parker singled out for criticism such Republican figures as Raleigh businessman Art Pope, the wealthy conservative donors Charles and David Koch, and the Republican majority on the Wake County school board for criticism.
But Parker, a soft-spoken, small-town lawyer, does not have a high public profile like the new Republican chairman, former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, or Hayes' predecessor, former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer.
Some in the Democratic Party saw Faison, an aggressive trial lawyer, as a more forceful if more controversial choice, who could more aggressively be a Democratic attack dog.
Faison had the backing of many legislators and was nominated by former House Speaker and now state Sen. Dan Blue. Former state Democratic Chairman Jerry Meek cut a video for Faison.
But Faison lacked Parker's party credentials.
The Democrats have less of a need for a spokesman in Raleigh than the Republicans, because they still control the governor's mansion.
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue officially stayed out of the chairman's race, although governors have traditionally recommended chairmen to their party.
Perdue was introduced to the Democrats by outgoing chairman David Young as "our last line of defense" against the Republican legislature.
"The president, the day after the election, said, 'We got shellacked,' " Perdue said. "You have to say ditto here in North Carolina. Say 'd-i-t-t-o,' come on," the governor said as the crowd responded by repeating the word.
But Perdue reminded the crowd that it was public education that set North Carolina apart from much of the rest of the South and that the state had to continue to work to protect education.
"Education got us to the dance, and education will get us home," Perdue said.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said the 2010 election was about voter frustration over the continued economic recession, brought about by the trade policies of the administration of Republican President George W. Bush.
The election in "2010 was not a Republican mandate," Dalton said. "It was just [an indication] of continued frustration."
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