Race still matters in N.C., but how much?

RALEIGH, N.C. — Barack Obama entered the presidential battle a year ago as the byproduct of dual worlds, someone who captured idealists by saying Americans can push beyond the barriers that have haunted humanity for generations. He wanted to be the candidate beyond race.

Yet two days before crucial primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, those very divisions now threaten to overshadow the battle between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

In North Carolina, where issues involving race helped sink the prospects of candidates from Terry Sanford to Harvey Gantt, some white Democrats tell pollsters they still feel less comfortable putting a black person in the White House, and Obama gets huge support from blacks. In the past week, amid a new flare-up involving Obama's former pastor, it's clear that race is again involved in a statewide North Carolina political battle.

Yet times have changed in recent years. Obama retains a lead here. And Tuesday could be a watershed primary for a state bound by its history, proving that even in North Carolina, a black man can be nominated to the presidency.

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