It wasn’t only the candidates’ positions on the issues that prompted the Progressive Democrats of N.C. to endorse Dan Besse over Hampton Dellinger for lieutenant governor in the ’08 primary. The twoand a third candidate, Pat Smathersgave similar, “quite progressive” answers on their PDNC questionnaires, says Pete MacDowell, the group’s president, and solid speeches at its recent annual meeting in Chapel Hill.

But the group preferred Besse, an environmental activist and second-term Winston-Salem council member, over Durham attorney Dellinger by a 56-16 tally; Smathers, the mayor of Canton in Haywood County, came in third with four votes.

“I think what it boils down to is the fact that Dan has walked his talk for a very long time,” MacDowell said this week. “He’s been in the trenches on poverty and environmental issues. He is an activist.”

Mike Easley in the attorney general’s office, and then as legal counsel to the governor, means he “hasn’t been as out there on the tough issues,” MacDowell added. “Progressives are less confident about him since he’s been in government most of his time, with a pretty conservative governor.”

PDNC members voted, however, to support any of those three contenders in a runoff against the fourth announced Democratic candidate and presumed frontrunner, Sen. Walter Dalton of Rutherford. Dalton didn’t attend the meeting, citing a conflicting event; he also did not return their questionnaire. “He’s got a conservative, pro-business record,” MacDowell said.

For profiles of the Democratic candidates, see “The Bully Pulpit,” Nov. 28; the PDNC questionnaires are posted at Bob Geary