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Scott Mooneyham: Trouble for Perdue campaign?

RALEIGH ó Last week, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby let it be known that more criminal charges are expected in the investigation of Gov. Beverly Perdueís campaign finances.
Willoughbyís comments to WRAL-TV confirmed that the investigation into unreported airplane flights by the Perdue campaign is continuing.
But the prosecutor added that he has seen nothing that implicates Perdue.
Willoughby has been reviewing information collected by the State Bureau of Investigation into Perdue campaign finances after an initial investigation by the State Board of Elections found dozens of unreported campaign flights.
The elections board review led to a $30,000 fine against the Perdue campaign. The governor admitted mistakes, but said none were intentional.
Still, a Perdue contributor, Robert Lee Caldwell of Morganton, was indicted in February on obstruction of justice charges. The indictment alleges that Caldwell paid for a plane to fly Perdue to a campaign stop, had someone else report paying for it, and then reimbursed the man with cash.
Again, no evidence shows that Perdue knew anything about it, and Caldwell is one donor out of thousands.
Willoughbyís words, though, mean that the investigation will likely be creeping closer to Perdue. He isnít providing any hints about who might be charged, but political insiders believe that someone on the inside of the campaign could be the target.
If so, the political damage to Perdue wonít be inconsequential, even if she had no knowledge of events.
No politician can hope to control eager, sycophantic donors, especially when courts increasingly give a green light to all kinds of questionable political giving; controlling your campaign staff is another matter.
The obvious question that arises: What do these events portend for the 2012 election?
Perdue, who has certainly been aware that the campaign flight investigation wasnít over, has given no indication that she wonít run for a second term.
Sheís raising money. Sheís been a visible, hands-on, active governor. Even if her poll numbers and public persona arenít sparkling, she thrives in small gatherings with average folks and jetsetters.
That doesnít mean she couldnít face a primary challenge.
Just last week, Democratic state Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County made noises sounding like he might be considering the idea. (He also suggested that Perdue might ědecide to do something else.î)
But the Democratic officeholders with more realistic chances of taking out an incumbent governor ó Attorney General Roy Cooper and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton ó are cautious politicians who arenít likely to give up their current offices without believing success is likely.
If she survives primary season, does Perdue then end up a damaged candidate?
Thatís the question that Democratic insiders are asking, which is why the talk of a primary challenge wonít go away.
No one really knows the answer. No one can until events play out.
Republicans, meanwhile, can savor the Democratsí dilemma, with one caveat: Thirteen months is a lifetime in politics.

Scott Mooneyham writes columns for Capitol Press Association.

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