Local Politics

Indiana primary now carries more clout than N.C.

After weeks in the national spotlight, North Carolina's role in the Democratic presidential race appears to be shifting again.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After weeks in the national spotlight, North Carolina's role in the presidential race appears to be shifting again.

Nine states have yet to hold their primaries, and the biggest chunk of delegates still up for grabs will be parceled out on May 6, when North Carolina and Indiana voters go to the polls.

Although North Carolina's 134 delegates, including superdelegates, are the biggest prize remaining, political observers began saying Wednesday that an Indiana victory by either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama could be more crucial to deciding the Democratic nominee for president.

Obama has a double-digit lead over Clinton in North Carolina, according to several polls, while the race in Indiana is much closer.

"If Obama can win there, he can perhaps start delivering his closing arguments," said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.

North Carolina has enjoyed frequent visits from Obama and Clinton – along with former President Bill Clinton – in recent weeks because the state's primary has been seen nationally as increasingly important.

"Obviously, we're going to get a lot of attention here, and we matter in some way, shape or form. But are we going to be definitive as far as the outcome is concerned? I very much doubt it," Taylor said.

At this stage of the race, beating expectations is almost as important as winning states, he said. Clinton's double-digit win Tuesday in Pennsylvania, where she was supposed to win handily, was the latest example of that.

If Clinton closes on Obama in North Carolina, that hurts him. Likewise, if Clinton can't hold onto Indiana, that deflates her chances.

Democratic party insiders still play up North Carolina's role.

"Sen. Obama is not taking North Carolina for granted. He and the campaign are going flat-out to win, and in my opinion, it's the most important primary left," said Ed Turlington, the Raleigh attorney who ran John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign and backing Obama now.

Turlington pointed to ongoing television ads by both candidates and continued visits to the state as an indication North Carolina remains a player in the presidential race.