N.C. finally called – for Obama

President-elect Obama won North Carolina on Thursday, a symbolic triumph that underscored his political strength as he turned nine states that President Bush won in 2004 to Democratic blue.

The Associated Press declared Obama the winner after canvassing counties in North Carolina to determine the number of outstanding provisional ballots. That survey found there aren't enough remaining ballots for Republican John McCain to close a 13,693-vote deficit.

North Carolina's 15 electoral votes brings Obama's total to 364 – nearly 100 more than necessary to win the White House – to McCain's 162. Missouri is the only state that remains too close to call, with McCain leading by several thousand votes.

Obama's win in North Carolina was the first for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976.

Of Bush's 2004 states, Obama captured Virginia, Florida and North Carolina in the South, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa in the Midwest and Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico in the West.

Obama ran an aggressive general election campaign in North Carolina after his wide primary victory in the state over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested he could win a trove of electoral votes that most assumed would belong to McCain.

Bill Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, reflected this week on what an Obama victory means for the state.

“I consider it one of the most dramatic events in my lifetime of watching politics in North Carolina,” said Friday, 88. “It is a turning point in the history of the state. It is one that reflects the growth and development of North Carolina.”

As part of the Confederacy, North Carolina has a legacy of slavery and segregation. But it has been regarded since the 1940s as one of the most moderate states in the South on race issues. And it is a state that has undergone rapid Sunbelt growth in recent decades, with millions of new residents moving here from around the country.

Julius Chambers, a 72-year-old Charlotte lawyer whose home was bombed during civil rights strife of the 1960s, said he never expected to see a black man elected president in his lifetime.

That North Carolina voted for Obama on Tuesday speaks well of his native state, he said.

“It says to me we are abandoning the old ways we have been doing things – reluctantly. We are like the rest of the country. We can accept people without respect to race or color. We are making progress.”

Rob Christensen of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.