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Editorial: NC reaches turning point

North Carolina’s presidential primary last week put the state in the national spotlight, for good or ill ó but mostly good. Washington Post columnists E.J. Dionne and David Broder put different spins on the story. One saw the N.C. primary as a turning point, the other said it was a waste of time. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Dionne said Hillary Clinton found her voice and strategy here ó putting forward a “better self” in North Carolina ó but that voters recognized her embrace of a federal gas tax holiday as pandering. Barack Obama chose not only to avoid that bandwagon, he said it was going in the wrong direction. In the process, Dionne says, Obama shifted attention away from his troublesome preacher.
“Sure, voters usually back Santa Claus, even if he’s offering only 30 cents a day,” Dionne wrote. “But by running hard against the temporary tax break and calling it a typical Washington gimmick, Obama put substance behind his claim that he’ll tell voters what they need to hear.”
Broder made the same observation about the gas tax holiday, but he declared North Carolina and Indiana irrelevant in the presidential race. The two “are so unimportant to Democratic chances of electing the next president that it is unlikely that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will make more than a token appearance there after one of them is nominated.”
The states’ voters have favored Republican presidential candidates for many years, Broder says. “Unless John McCain butchers his campaign, he will be an odds-on favorite to continue the Republican winning streak in both states.”
North Carolina’s voting patterns might not be as impervious to change as Broder thinks. This primary was a turning point, as Dionne says, but in more ways than Clinton’s campaign style. The primary brought out thousands of people who have not voted before ó people who don’t fit the old patterns. Several times during the caucus and primary process this year, voters have proved the pundits wrong. They’ve had enough of the political experts’ self-fulfilling prophecies and are thinking for themselves. That alone is a step forward.
Even if McCain does win an easy N.C. victory in November, the Democratic primary here was hardly irrelevant to the selection process. For the first time in many years, the state’s primary vote was more than a formality ó it was democracy in action ó and it gave Obama more momentum. Broder can dismiss North Carolina’s primary, but 2 million voters thought it was important enough to go to the polls last week. Don’t count them out in the November election ó or make assumptions about how they’ll vote.

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