Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When exit polls for the Pennsylvania primary came out late Tuesday afternoon showing a puny lead of 3.6 points for Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, Democratic leaders who desperately wanted her to end her candidacy were not cheered. They were sure that this overstated Sen. Obama's strength, as exit polls nearly always have in urban, diverse states. How was it possible, then, that Sen. Clinton, given up for dead by her party's establishment, won Pennsylvania in a 10-point landslide? The answer is the dreaded Bradley Effect.

Prominent Democrats only whisper when they compare Obama, the first African-American with a serious chance to be president, with what happened to Los Angeles' black Mayor Tom Bradley a quarter of a century ago. Exit polls in 1982 showed Bradley ahead for governor of California, but he actually lost to Republican George Deukmejian. Pollster John Zogby (who correctly predicted Clinton's double-digit win Tuesday) said what practicing Democrats would not. "I think voters face-to-face are not willing to say they would oppose an African-American candidate," Zogby told me.

If there really is a Bradley Effect in 2008, Zogby sees November peril ahead for Obama in blue states. John McCain is a potential winner not only in Pennsylvania but also Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and can retain Ohio. But there seems no way Clinton can overtake Obama's lead in delegates and the popular vote. For unelected super-delegates to deprive Obama of the nomination would so depress African-American general election votes that the nomination would be worthless. In a year when all normal political indicators point to Republican defeat on all fronts, the Democratic Party faces a deepening dilemma.

The escape route from this dilemma only a few months ago seemingly was indicated by the sudden emergence of Obama as an extraordinary candidate who could transcend race and ideology. But as Bill Clinton sought to label Obama as his wife's black opponent, he increasingly also has been identified as bearing the same ideological burdens that brought down Democratic nominees George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. It has gotten worse for Obama, losing every high-population state to Clinton except his own Illinois.


Robert Novak

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

 
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