It’s a new race in North Carolina following Gov. Bev Perdue’s (D) decision not to run for reelection.

But is it any more competitive?

For an entire year, now, North Carolina has topped The Fix’s governor’s line, meaning it is the 2012 governor’s seat seen as most likely to switch parties.

President Obama points to manufactured parts used in commercial aircraft during his tour of the WestStar Precision Facility in Apex, N.C., in September. From left are employee Jodi Park, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D), and owner Ervin Portman. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais — Associated Press)

Much of that, though was premised on Perdue’s vulnerabilities, which means Democrats’ chances, theoretically at least, could be better with her out of the race.

Whether that’s the case is up for debate.

So far, three Democrats have stepped forward to run in Perdue’s stead: state Rep. Bill Faison, former congressman Bob Etheridge and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton. Other top contenders including former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, Rep. Mike McIntyre and state Attorney General Roy Cooper have passed, while those still considering their options include Rep. Brad Miller.

Democrats, though, say they’re happy to have the debate be not just about Perdue’s record, but about likely GOP nominee Pat McCrory’s as well.

“Until a few weeks ago, pages 1 through 100 of the Republican playbook were negative attacks against Gov. Perdue,” said Mark Giangreco, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Now Pat McCrory is going to have to explain his own dismal record of slashing education and lobbying for big special interests at the expense of North Carolina families.”

The GOP, though, argues that Perdue brought the power of incumbency to the race, and her potential replacements aren’t any more formidable than she would have been.

“For all of Perdue’s troubles, she had the strongest organization of any potential Democrat and had been raising money for reelection since she was sworn in,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye. “Her polling in the state was just as high as the other potential challengers to McCrory, as well.”

Recent polling for Perdue’s campaign seemed to back up that claim. A Perdue poll from December showed her approval rating rising to 45 percent — not great territory, but putting her within striking distance of McCrory.

And whatever organization Perdue had, it was likely to be supplemented to a large extent by President Obama’s campaign. The Democratic Party is holding its national convention in Charlotte in September and is counting on victory in the Tarheel State, and that should benefit whomever the Democratic nominee is. (Indeed, many think Obama was responsible for Perdue’s 2008 victory by driving up African-America turnout.)

“North Carolina is clearly a key swing state, and the president’s campaign has been on the ground and organized for several months,” said North Carolina political analyst Jonathan Kappler. “The president’s turnout operation will be an important factor in the gubernatorial contest that shouldn’t be overlooked.”

A big question, Kappler notes, is whether Democrats can avoid such a crowded primary that might cost them down the line. A candidate needs at least 40 percent of the vote in the May primary to avoid a runoff, and the more big names that enter, the less likely that is.

Etheridge is a well-regarded Blue Dog Democrat who fell victim to a very tough election year in 2010 (along with a YouTube video of him physically accosting a Republican tracker), while Dalton is a solid if not terribly exciting candidate who was elected in his own right in 2008, defeating a fellow state senator. Faison is not seen as a top contender. Miller would bring a formidable record to the race, potentially paving the way for one of the more wide-open primaries of 2012.

From the primary to the general election, it all translates to a contest that was and will continue to be the marquee governor’s race of November, perhaps even more so after Perdue’s exit.

Which is why it’s still No. 1 on our list.

To the line!

5. New Hampshire (Democratic-controlled): Perhaps the purest toss-up of 2012, this race is getting off the ground now that the state’s presidential primary is history. With Gov. John Lynch (D) retiring, there was already a contested GOP primary, but now the Democratic primary is contested too, with former state senator Jackie Cilley jumping into the race against another former state senator, Maggie Hassan. Meanwhile, former state Bureau of Securities Regulation Director Mark Connolly said Friday he won’t join Cilley and Hassan in the Democratic primary. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Washington (D): Republicans believe big time in state Attorney General Rob McKenna (R), and he’s proving them right so far — at least when it comes to fundraising. So far, McKenna has outraised Rep. Jay Inslee (D) $3.7 million to $3.1 million, even though Inslee got a $365,000 infusion from the state Democratic party. (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Montana (D): The Republican primary got a little less crowded recently with state Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann (R) ending his campaign. That leaves former congressman Rick Hill (R) as the early favorite to face the likely Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Steve Bullock. (Previous ranking: 2)

2. Wisconsin (Republican-controlled): This is the newcomer to the list. Now that the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker (R) is officially on, this one skyrockets to the top two. That said, early polling shows Walker is in pretty decent position, and he doesn’t yet face the cream of the crop when it comes to the Democratic bench. So far the field includes state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. The big names, though, are Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former congressman David Obey. (Previous ranking: N/A)

1. North Carolina (D): See above. (Previous ranking: 1)