Robert Novak

To combat that, the Obama high command on Friday privately contacted super-delegates to report that his Pennsylvania and Indiana polling numbers have "come back" (without specifying how much). Obama agents are also trying to minimize the distinctiveness of his embrace with Wright by distributing photos and letters showing Bill Clinton's contacts with the Chicago preacher in 1998, when the president's campaign against impeachment was wooing friendly clergymen.

The problem for Obama is that furor over Parson Wright has reached beyond voters normally interested in political controversies. Over the last week, I have been repeatedly asked by non-political people about Obama's connection with Wright's tirade. In the process, Obama's political persona has been altered -- transformed, as described by one friendly Chicago politician, from Harvard Law Review to South Side activist.

Officially and publicly, the Clinton campaign has shied away from comment about Jeremiah Wright. But in off-the-record talks with super-delegates, Clinton's agents claim the connection casts doubt on Obama's electability. Furthermore, one Democratic operative who is inclined to Obama warns the issue will be raised in much harsher terms by Republicans during the general election campaign. In last week's Clinton conference call with the news media, campaign senior adviser Harold Ickes questioned "whether Sen. Obama is going to be able to stand up to the Republican attack machine."

The consensus among knowledgeable Democrats is that Obama will win over enough super-delegates to clinch the nomination before the national convention in August, partly because of fear for the consequences if they do not. But one longtime associate said this of the Clintons in private conversation last week: "They will do anything -- anything -- to get nominated." That reminder deepens the Democratic dilemma.

Robert Novak

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

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