News flash: Your vote counts.

John Kerry got himself a smart lawyer Tuesday. And John Edwards will likely continue his pursuit from the primary season of a class action lawsuit against Bush & Co. for corporate malfeasance and cooking the books.

His courtroom will be the union halls of the Midwest and the retirement centers of the Sunshine State.

Kerry’s pick of North Carolina’s senior senator already is having an impact here at home. Pundits and political rainmakers are telling us that North Carolina, once a safe bet for Bush, is now “in play.” Brace yourselves for a relentless barrage of campaign ads.

We’d like to point out that as far as we’re concerned, the state has always been in play when it comes to the future of what most of us hold dear–like education, clean water, social services, a sound mental health system, and a fair tax structure that’s not skewed to large corporations willing to utter a few vague promises about jobs.

Kerry and Edwards won’t be on the ballot until fall, but in less than two weeks voters will be asked to decide everything from the make up of school boards to their party’s candidates for the state legislature.

It is predicted that this summer’s primary, delayed by another bitter, partisan redistricting battle, could see the worst turnout in recent history.

That’s a shame, because local elections have also seen the creeping influence of national politics, with conservative groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy (their Web site’s home page has a warm welcome message by Dick Armey–remember him?) pouring money into local efforts.

Aside from the main event to be decided by November’s ballot, there is plenty in play to consider. The N.C. House, split nearly even for two years, has shifted to the right under co-speakers Black and Morgan. It could swing either way in a close race. Who takes the speaker’s gavel next January, and thus who controls debate on the death penalty moratorium, corporate give-aways, the tobacco tax, environmental rules and education budgets, is anything but certain.

The U.S. Senate, also tightly divided and more partisan, bitter and uncivil than it’s been since 1856 when Rep. Brooks went upside Sen. Sumner’s head with a walking stick, could shift back to the Dems, but only if competitive races like the Bowles-Burr race and similarly tight contests in South Carolina and Oklahoma go their way. We’ve never been crazy about Erskine, but as this week’s cover story points out, Burr is clearly in the president’s and corporate America’s pocket.

The Senate’s pitiful oversight of the Bush administration on everything from the war to Dick Cheney’s energy task force is reason enough to vote for the tall guy with the glasses.

So, while we cheer North Carolina joining the ranks of the battleground states, we contend it’s always been one.

Vote like you mean it.