Robert Novak

This racial polarization is not a hangover of a Deep South state's segregationist past. A week earlier, when Clinton kept her campaign alive with a decisive win in Ohio, exit polls gave her a three-to-two edge there among whites (nearly as high among men as women), while Obama was winning close to 90 percent of blacks. Obama's difficulty with white male voters followed a transformation of the political atmosphere over the previous month. In California's exit polls on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday, Obama had 55 percent backing from white men, as Clinton carried the state.

Democratic concern on both sides of the racial divide is what will happen after either Obama or Clinton is nominated, with both anecdotal evidence and polling data pointing to substantial defections to Republican John McCain. The prospect of a happy racial reconciliation that would be started on the national convention's rostrum in Denver late in August is dimmed because the bitter battle for the nomination will not end anytime soon. In the worst nightmare scenario for Democrats, they could be fighting right into Denver.

The outcome will depend on which candidate gets the uncommitted super-delegates. Since Clinton cannot win a majority of elected delegates, she must entice the professional politicians who are super-delegates by forging ahead in the popular vote of the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, followed by the likely Michigan and Florida re-votes perhaps in mid-June.

In such a prolonged contest, Obama will enjoy overwhelming African-American support. The question is whether the Clinton campaign can resist pointing this out in an effort to mobilize white backing. It certainly has not resisted so far, demonstrated by feckless Gerry Ferraro's mimicking what she heard from Bill and Hillary.

Robert Novak

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

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