Election 2008: Why North Carolina will continue to be a battleground

The Democrats' election victories in North Carolina this year -- including president, U.S. Senate and the governorship -- have many talking about how the state "turned blue," and whether it's going to stay a battleground state.

But as Rob Christenson points out in the Raleigh News & Observer today, North Carolina has been a battleground for many years:

North Carolina is the toughest political neighborhood in the South -- in fact, in the whole country.

In the 1980s, only Minnesota had more close top races for president, governor and U.S. Senate. In the 1990s, North Carolina had the closest top races in the country. In this decade, only Minnesota, Missouri and Florida have had closer elections for the top offices.

North Carolina was polarized before polarization was cool.

By way of showing the import of the 2008 elections, many point to the fact that no Democratic president had won in NC since 1976. A more telling observation might be that only six years separated the retirement of Sen. Jesse Helms and the election of Barack Obama in North Carolina.

These realities reveal that North Carolina is a deeply contested state, and not just Democratic vs. Republican: It's Old South vs. "New" South; urban vs. rural; rich vs. poor; old race relations vs. a new multi-racial future -- issues which don't line up along party lines the way they do in other states.

But it also ensures that North Carolina will continue to swing between red and blue -- and at the top of the national list of key battlegrounds.