Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Which Democrat really won Super Tuesday? Thanks to the Democratic Party's proportional representation, it is not easy to say a week later. Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama ran a virtual dead heat for delegates that day in 22 states clearly stacked in Obama's favor. But the way Obama lost California raises the specter of the dreaded Bradley Effect.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American Democrat, in 1982 unexpectedly lost his candidacy for governor of California. His defeat followed voters telling pollsters they prefer a black candidate and then voting the other way. In California's primary last Tuesday, Obama lost by a landslide 10 percentage points after a late survey showed him ahead by 13 points and other polls gave him a smaller lead.

Was this presumed 20-point reversal caused by the Bradley Effect, which has worried Democratic leaders about Obama since he became an obstacle to Hillary Clinton's majestic procession to the Oval Office? It is much too early for that conclusion, but the subject is in the minds and private comments of Democratic politicians pondering the stalemate for the party's presidential nomination.

Other than an alarming racial gap separating supporters of the two candidates, Obama escaped from Super Tuesday without obvious damage. Clinton's capture of California, New York and New Jersey gave her the big states contested that day except for Obama's home state of Illinois and, under Republican winner-take-all rules, would have put her on the way to the nomination. Instead, Obama got only a 13-delegate edge out of 1,681 delegates at stake Tuesday.

That is bad news for Clinton, who now faces a temporary drought. The next three weeks belong to Obama, with nearly all 11 delegations to be selected in his favor, culminating in Wisconsin on Feb. 19. Clinton's strategists spread the word not to worry because of Texas and Ohio, two big states presumably favorable to Clinton, on March 4. With its large Hispanic vote, Texas looks good for Clinton, and Ohio less certain.

Robert Novak

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

©Creators Syndicate