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368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 illus., appends., notes, index

The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics

The Personalities, Elections, and Events That Shaped Modern North Carolina

By Rob Christensen

Awards & Distinctions

2008 Ragan Old North State Award, North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

How can a state be represented by Jesse Helms and John Edwards at the same time? Journalist Rob Christensen answers that question and navigates a century of political history in North Carolina, one of the most vibrant and competitive southern states, where neither conservatives nor liberals, Democrats nor Republicans, have been able to rest easy. It is this climate of competition and challenge, Christensen argues, that enabled North Carolina to rise from poverty in the nineteenth century to become a leader in research, education, and banking in the twentieth.

Although party divisions and the issues of race that often distinguish them are deeply rooted, Christensen explains, North Carolina voters remain loyal to candidates who focus on issues such as education and building a business-friendly infrastructure. He takes us to picket lines and debates and through numerous red-baiting and race-baiting political campaigns. Along the way we are introduced to many remarkable characters, including a U.S. senator who was a Nazi sympathizer, a candidate for governor who was a Soviet agent, a senator who helped bring down Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, and a TV commentator who helped usher in the Reagan Revolution. Long before the talk of red state-blue state polarization, North Carolina was an intensely divided state politically. With Christensen as a guide, readers may find there is sense after all in the topsy-turvy nature of Tar Heel politics.

About the Author

Rob Christensen has covered North Carolina politics for thirty-four years at the News and Observer in Raleigh.


"Christensen . . . has a nice touch for writing about the characters (and sometimes the rogues) who have populated N.C. politics over the years."
--Jack Betts, The Charlotte Observer

"A lively account of history [that] includes eyebrow-raising facts."
--Fayetteville Observer

"A romp through 100 years of North Carolina politics. . . . Help[s] readers understand the conflicts and contradictions that define North Carolina to this day."
--Greensboro News and Record

"Hotter and slicker than a politician's handshake at a pig pickin' in July."
--Marcy Smith, Raleigh News & Observer

"Presents the pivotal figures and elections of North Carolina's twentieth-century politics in an entertaining and insightful fashion. . . . Christensen's panoramic picture of the state's modern politics is much more than fascinating."
--North Carolina Historical Review

"Christensen has written a terrific . . . history here, one that is very readable and absolutely jammed full of facts, figures, and anecdotes. . . . [He] lay[s] the historical basis for North Carolina politics as they exist today."
--Winston-Salem Journal

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