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Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller won a close race to become N.C. Democratic Party chairman Saturday, beating former congressman Bob Etheridge by a vote of 309-298 at the Durham Convention Center.
Voller takes over a party that is struggling to raise money and win elections after decades of dominance. Republicans won majorities in the state House and Senate in 2010 and expanded their advantage in both chambers last year. Democrats lost the governorship last year.
Voller pledged to make the party a winner again with out becoming GOP Lite.
Were here to win the battle of ideas in our communities, and were here to win elections, Voller told members of the partys State Executive Committee.
Voller was the only candidate campaigning after former state Sen. Eric Mansfield dropped out of the race. Rumors swirled for days after Mansfield dropped out that Etheridge would run, but he agreed only Saturday morning to serve as chairman if he won, said supporter Jenny Edwards of Franklinton.
In an interview, Edwards said she wished that we were able to convince him sooner.
Etheridge left the meeting before he was nominated, and Edwards addressed the committee on his behalf. Etheridge supporters said the party needed someone who could raise money and who had statewide and national connections.
Bob can open doors, Edwards told the committee. The Republicans have outspent us. They have deep pockets. They dont have the only pockets. Bob knows how to do this.
Speaking for Voller, Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham urged voters to pass the baton to a new leader.
Voller succeeds David Parker as chairman. Parker was on his heels for most of last year as he was blamed for mishandling an allegation of sexual harassment made against the former executive director.
Voller said he was not worried that the close contest would divide the party and that Etheridges strong showing honored his career.
Raleigh resident Nina Szlosberg-Landis, a former state Board of Transportation member, won the race for first vice chair by a vote of 408-175 over Gwen Wilkins of Nash County.
Former state Sen. Cal Cunningham praised Szlosberg-Landis commitment to the party and her ability to raise money.
Shes a proven fundraiser, he said. This party needs a proven fundraiser in its leadership.
Money, and the lack of it, was a theme. Democrats came in far behind the race for political cash last year, and Republican candidates in state Senate races significantly outspent Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt of Asheville said Democratic state Senate candidates were annihilated by opponents with more money, and it was up to everyone in the room to figure out how to raise campaign cash.
We tried the best we knew how this year, Nesbitt said. We went backwards. We lost more seats.