Here’s what happened next: Governor Easley fell out of favor, immersed himself in scandal, ended his second term under a cloud of ethics violations, and then pled guilty to a felony. Senator Edwards — well, you know what he did. The Democratic speaker of the state house and majority whip of the state senate were indicted, convicted, and incarcerated on separate corruption charges. The lieutenant governor, Perdue, waged a successful campaign for governor in 2008 that happened to include a variety of illegal campaign contributions and expenditures. In the midst of a painful recession, in a state with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, Perdue and the Democratic legislature enacted a massive tax increase in 2009. Voters punished them in 2010 by delivering both houses of the state legislature to Republicans. By early 2012, several of Perdue’s aides and donors were either indicted on criminal charges or about to be, and she had become one of the most unpopular governors in the country.
In late January, Perdue announced that she wouldn’t seek a second term — perhaps the only major decision she made as governor that actually boosted her party’s prospects. But because she announced her retirement so late in the cycle, the Democratic primary for governor turned into a mad scramble. Lieutenant governor Walter Dalton ended up with the nomination, defeating former U.S. representative Bob Etheridge. But Dalton’s coffers were depleted. And for the first time in North Carolina history, polls showed that a non-incumbent Republican, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, would enter the governor’s race as the front-runner.
Just when it looked like things couldn’t get much worse for North Carolina Democrats, news broke that a young man, a former staffer at party headquarters, had made sexual-harassment charges against the party’s executive director, Jay Parmley, who had previously run the state party in neighboring South Carolina. It further came to light that longtime party activist and attorney David Parker, who hired Parmley as executive director in 2011, had responded to the harassment allegations by keeping Parmley on the job and authorizing a late-2011 financial settlement with the staffer, whose grievance had expanded to include a claim of wrongful termination after Parmley fired him.
Party officials managed to keep the story under wraps for several months. Reporters heard rumors but couldn’t confirm them. In early April, however, someone leaked internal party e-mails to the Daily Caller, which broke the story. North Carolina newspapers and broadcast stations quickly picked it up and fleshed out the details. It turned out that Governor Perdue and other prominent Democrats had long known about the sexual-harassment allegations. “Get over it,” Perdue snapped to a reporter asking her about the settlement, exhibiting the touch for public relations that denied her a second term. Parmley resigned his job as executive director of the party, inducing a mixture of snorts and giggles by stridently protesting his innocence and blaming conservative bloggers for his demise.
Attention next turned to the future of David Parker. State and national Democrats urged him to resign. Obama-campaign operatives put out the word that if he didn’t, their North Carolina operation would bypass the state party altogether rather than manage a separate but complementary effort alongside other Democratic campaigns, as originally planned. And DNC officials hoped that Parker would save them the trouble of disinviting him from the Charlotte convention.