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North Carolina Goes To Obama By Slim Margin

This story was written by Naureen Khan, The Duke Chronicle

President-elect Barack Obama, who clinched his historic bid for the White House Tuesday night, officially added North Carolina's 15 electoral votes to his already sizable win, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The race was deemed too close to call in North Carolina by election officials as of Wednesday, with more than 13,000 votes separating Obama and Republican opponent Sen. John McCain. The AP called the state in favor of Obama only after conducting a canvass of counties and determining there were not enough remaining provisional ballots to make up the difference.

Although the election was decided long before North Carolina was counted, Obama supporters hailed the surprise win as symbolically significant-an indication of a political shift in a state no Democratic presidential contender has been able to capture since former president Jimmy Carter's 1976 win over incumbent Gerald Ford.

Durham County Board of Elections Director Mike Ashe told The Chronicle Wednesday that there were an estimated 40,000 provisional ballots, which are used when a voter's eligibility is in question, but that those ballots that end up being counted generally split similarly for candidates as the unofficial total.

"I was asked by a lot of reporters last year whether North Carolina would vote for a Democratic president in 2008 and my response was candidly, 'I don't know in 2008,'" said Jerry Meek, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party. "I just think there are fundamental demographic shifts going on in our state that make North Carolina competitive and there's no indication that's going to let up."

The victory pushed Obama's total to 364 electoral votes, well over the 270 required to become president. North Carolina is the ninth state the Illinois Senator carried that President George W. Bush won in 2004. Missouri's 11 electoral votes are still too close to call, according to the AP, but McCain holds a slim lead in the state.

"The fact that he won North Carolina, although it's kind of arbitrary at this point, it does increase the validity of his mandate," said Duke University sophomore Mark Thysell, an Obama supporter from Oregon who decided to cast his vote in North Carolina after its transformation into a swing state. "It provides a clear image of how supportive of his policies the nation is."

Many emphasized Obama's victories in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia as significant accomplishments for regions that have reliably been a strong base of support for Republicans in previous years.

"There were people-political scientists and strategists-who advised the Democrats not to campaign in the South," said Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on Southern politics. "It's important that [Obama] rejected that advice, that he had enough money to build a base, and to find a persuadable base-black voters and white voters alike."

Obama's triumph in North Carolina came after a costly campaign in which he poured considerable resources into the state to turn the tide against McCain.

"Obviously we were hoping to keep North Carolina red, but Barack Obama ran a tough disciplined campaign and he earned the state," said Brent Woodcox, N.C. GOP spokesperson.

The Obama campaign was particularly aided by an early start after his primary battle with Sen. Hillary Clinton in May and a considerable ground game to both register voters and get them to the polls, he noted. Republicans intend to continue to exercise their political power in the state.

One of the challenges the Republicans will need to address is the dominance Democrats exhibited during North Carolina'searly voting period. Obama amassed 1.1 million early votes, giving him a 180,000-vote lead heading into Election Day. Although McCain won the most votes Nov. 4, Obama's early voting edge was large enough to deliver him a victory in the Tar Heel state.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for Republicans. Obama ran on a lot of promises and things that he wanted to accomplish," Woodcox said. "There are a lot of promises we're going to hold him to and this coalition that he's built is going to be very dissatisfied with the Democratic party if he doesn't follow through."

Election observers of all political stripes said that with the results affirmed, Obama must now confront the difficult challenges facing the nation.

"All of the people have invested their hope into this guy," said junior Christian Richman, a McCain supporter. "Now I guess people are going to want him to confirm their expectations."

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