Facing South has written extensively about whether the South will be in play for the 2008 presidential elections (for example, here). With Obama now the Democratic nominee, the question is no longer academic: can this once-solid stronghold for Republicans became contested terrain?

Political correspondent Rob Christensen of the Raleigh News & Observer looks at the possibilities in North Carolina. He starts with Obama's positives:

The Illinois senator starts the fall race with advantages that no recent Democratic presidential candidate has had in North Carolina. Having campaigned extensively across the state, Obama has built a powerful grass-roots organization here, with about 15,000 volunteers, and has generated intense interest among blacks and young voters.

Moreover, there is a Democratic tide running in the country because of dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, President Bush's unpopularity and a troubled economy. [...]

"I think Obama has excited North Carolinians in a way that I haven't seen since Carter ran in 1976," [Raleigh political veteran Ed] Turlington said.

But Christensen also observes N.C. is an uphill battle -- especially given N.C.'s history of African-American candidates that appear to match up well on paper, but whose campaigns end up in defeat:

Still, Obama, a one-term senator of African descent with an ethnic name, faces major challenges. In a socially conservative, pro-military state, Obama may not be an easy sell with tradition-minded voters. That was evident in the state's Democratic primary, when Obama struggled to win the votes of older, rural whites.

There is also a history here of gifted black candidates doing well in a Democratic primary but losing in the general election -- most notably former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt's unsuccessful challenges in 1990 and 1996 against Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.

But John McCain isn't necessarily Jesse Helms. Democrats also have another advantage:

North Carolina has one of the strongest Democratic parties in the South, with 16 consecutive years of Democratic governors.

Both sides have a point. As is often the case, the issue might not be whether N.C. has the potential to go for Obama -- it's whether Obama and the Democrats will invest (or be able to invest, given other competing priorities) the resources, time and energy that would allow Obama to capitalize on that potential.