Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Terrence McAuliffe, the multimillionaire wheeler-dealer imposed by the Clintons on the Democratic National Committee as its chairman after the 2000 election, quickly paid back his benefactors. He designed a front-loaded primary system intended to confirm Sen. Hillary Clinton as presidential nominee by Feb. 5. Contrary to expectations, however, no choice will be made for months and perhaps not until the national convention at Denver in late August.

There is no mathematical possibility of Mega Tuesday balloting in 22 states tomorrow for 1,681 delegates -- labeled the first "national" primary -- giving either Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama close to the 2,025 delegates necessary for nomination. That unexpected reality is produced by Obama's appeal, Clinton fatigue and extreme proportional representation adopted by the Democratic Party.

The nation's two political parties have reverted to form after appearing to have exchanged identities. Democrats a year ago seemed to be emulating Republican practice in settling for an early anointed candidate, Sen. Clinton, while the divided GOP field resembled historic Democratic practice in the absence of an incumbent president. Republicans, who traditionally abhor competition, are ready tomorrow to crown Sen. John McCain as their nominee. Democrats will still be battling.

The full consequences of adopting proportional representation three decades ago finally will be realized by the Democratic Party. In 1972, supporters of Hubert Humphrey protested George McGovern's winner-take-all capture of the huge California delegation that clinched the presidential nomination. Appalled at being called majoritarians, McGovernite liberals adopted proportional representation. For the next seven presidential elections, Democrats have avoided its impact creating a stalemate, in the absence of a prolonged two-candidate contest.

Under proportional representation, a candidate collects delegates by achieving the 15 percent viability level either statewide or in a congressional district. In a four-delegate district, Clinton could win 59 percent of the vote and still split the delegates with Obama, two to two. The impact of California consequently is dissipated in view of polls showing Clinton's former double-digit lead cut in half. Although she can win handily in New York and New Jersey, Obama will be first in Illinois and smaller states, and is strong in barometric Missouri. So, the supposed national primary will settle nothing.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

©Creators Syndicate