"We're getting into a sticky wicket," says Allison Dahle, a Democratic candidate for the General Assembly. "I do not want to run on my opponent's failings that have been publicized. As a woman, I'm troubled that this is still going on and I think we need to be very careful in how we communicate with people and listen to what they're saying."
She pauses. "How's that for side-stepping?"
Dahle signed up to run against state Representative Duane Hall before she knew she might have a chance. Hall was, until a few weeks ago, a rising party star. Everyone assumed he was running for lieutenant governor in 2020, and who knows what after that. He had money in the bank, loads of name recognition, a pragmatic record, and a winning smile. In his Democratic-leaning District 11, he was all but invincible.
So when Dahle filed to run in the May 8 primary, she didn't expect to win. After President Trump's election, she began working to organize Democrats in some Wake County precincts, but she's hardly a player on the party's stage. Still, she says, she wanted to get her perspective out there—that of a woman, a lesbian, in a political system dominated by white male lawyers—and perhaps set herself up for another campaign down the road.
And then everything changed. On February 28, the last day of filing, the progressive website NC Policy Watch published a story detailing accusations of sexual misconduct against Hall. Hall emphatically denied the allegations, but Governor Cooper, state party chairman Wayne Goodwin, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, and other top Democrats called for him to step down.
Hall remained defiant, accusing Policy Watch of having a vendetta against him and going so far as to allege that Policy Watch had violated its nonprofit status by interfering in an election.
Since then, Hall's path hasn't gotten any less rocky. The Young Democrats of North Carolina turned on him, pressuring his campaign donors to donate to NC Women United and maintaining a public list of the politicians who have—and have not—called for his resignation.
And last week, the third person in District 11 primary, Heather Metour, dropped out, citing family issues. That leaves Dahle as Hall's sole challenger. He'll have to win with an outright majority, despite the opprobrium he faces. And that means Dahle has a chance—if she can rally progressives outraged at Hall's alleged behavior.
"It's generational," says a Democratic operative who asked not to be named. "The younger operatives, they're not having it. And they're the ones [Hall] was friends with. ... It may not be a slam dunk for Duane."
In an interview Tuesday, Hall told the INDY he's kept quiet in recent weeks because he's in a no-win situation. "My immediate response [to the allegations] was to try to talk about everything," Hall says. "But any response I gave upset people more."
He insists that the Policy Watch reports misrepresented what actually happened. In one example, in which he was accused of forcibly kissing an unnamed Democratic Party official at a party function, Hall says he and the woman—who he says declined to talk to the media—have been friends for twenty years; she went to kiss him on the cheek, like a sister. He thought it would be funny to turn his head and catch her on the lips.
"It wasn't," he admits.
But he says he meant no harm.
"The media took that incident and portrayed it in a very different light," Hall says.
He points out that he and the woman are still friends, and that she recently went to lunch with him and his fiancé.
(There was a separate reported incident in which Hall was accused of forcibly kissing a woman at an Equality NC gala. That woman, who remains unnamed, did talk to Policy Watch and confirmed the story.)
Asked about the party officials who have demanded his resignation, Hall says, "I was upset that friends would do that that quickly. I feel like they acted with the best intentions but without the facts, without having heard my side."
As much as this race will turn on whether the voters of District 11 believe the allegations against Hall—and as much as Hall's alleged foibles have given Dahle an opening—the challenger says she doesn't want the allegations to define her campaign.
Dahle is a Raleigh native, born at Rex Hospital. She earned a bachelor's degree in theater and speech at the University of South Carolina, then worked as a stage manager before transitioning to a career helping people with disabilities find jobs. She moved back to Raleigh about thirteen years ago, to be closer to her mother, and worked as an office manager for a law firm.
That's not quite the stuff that political careers are built on, but Dahle thinks her background could prove advantageous in the legislature. She wants better funding for schools and health care and for the state to finally expand Medicaid—all boilerplate Democratic positions. She also argues that, operating in the minority, she'll be able to effectively work across the aisle.
"I think compromise is not a dirty word," Dahle says. "I think being a novice in the political system will help me. I don't have any bad blood out there."