Yesterday, I wrote about North Carolina's sudden surge to prominence -- to the surprise of pundits nation-wide -- as a key battleground state in the 2008 presidential election. NC's status just jumped a notch today with the release of a Rasmussen Reports poll giving Barack Obama a 2-point lead over John McCain, 49%-47%.

The Rasmussen poll is significant for two reasons. First, as Rasmussen notes (via Under the Dome):
"This is the first time in eight Rasmussen Reports polls that Obama has held any kind of a lead in North Carolina, though the candidates were tied once as well," the pollsters write.
That's especially notable given that in the poll, only 3% of voters said they were voting for "other." As I reported yesterday, most polls showing Obama within striking distance of McCain in NC to date have included a third party candidate like Bob Barr.

Yesterday I looked at two factors that appeared to be keeping the NC race close, and possibly giving Obama an edge. One was the economy -- which fits the findings of the Rasmussen survey. According to that poll, here's how NC voters ranked their top concerns:
46% Economic Issues
22% National Security Issues
9% Fiscal Issues
9% Not sure
7% Domestic Issues
7% Cultural Issues
It's no surprise the economy is a big issue. As we reported yesterday, North Carolina lost 45,000 jobs last month. Today, Under the Dome reports that state agencies are being told they'll have to slash $400 million from their budgets because of the economic recession. As long as the economy remains the front-and-center issue, it works to Obama's favor.
Both campaigns sense the battle is on in NC: McCain's campaign has 9 surrogates working their way through North Carolina; Obama's campaign has 10.
That's not all ... look for Part III to our analysis of why NC is in play, coming soon.