Barack Obama's clinching of the Democratic presidential nomination raises the possibility that the two major parties will fight over North Carolina, a reliably Republican state that Democrats have contested only once in the past seven elections. In the era of color-coded television maps, Obama turns the traditionally red state at least to pink, according to strategists from both parties.
North Carolina offers a prize of 15 electoral votes. Only eight states deliver more, and Obama has said he wants to expand the map of competitive states. Neighboring South Carolina, with eight electoral votes, remains a more solid Republican bet.
Longtime GOP strategist Carter Wrenn, a veteran of statewide campaigns for former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, said as recently as a month ago he thought there was no way Democrats could make North Carolina a battleground. He's thinking differently now. That's because Democrats won three special elections since March in traditionally Republican districts in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. Wrenn said those elections, President Bush's continued low approval ratings, and a sagging economy could suggest a Democratic surge.
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