Robert Novak

Obama hit a low in Pennsylvania, despite clouds over Clinton's credibility and her husband's dysfunctional campaigning. Popular freshman Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a pro-life and pro-gun Catholic, was Obama's faithful surrogate but proved no help. Exit polls showed Obama losing 70 percent of Catholics, 58 percent of white Protestants and 62 percent of gun owners. Clinton carried union members, wage-earners between $15,000 and $75,000 annually, and people with less than a college degree. Obama was saved from total disaster in Pennsylvania by 92 percent of the African-American vote, but the reverse of the racial divide was Clinton's support from whites, especially white working women.

For the first time, Democratic loyalists not necessarily committed to Clinton are wondering whether the party's system for picking a nominee is the problem. If all caucuses were eliminated and only primaries used in picking nominees, Obama's lead of 130 in delegates would become an advantage for Clinton of 45 delegates. The bigger problem is proportional representation replacing the winner-take-all system that enabled Republicans to get their nominee on Feb. 5 Super Tuesday. Without the "reforms" enacted by Democrats during the decade following the party's 1968 fiasco, Clinton might have clinched the nomination by now.

Such regret does not affect the 2008 election, and no significant procedural changes are likely for the future. Democratic politicians today see no viable alternative to Barack Obama as their nominee. Their hard assessment is that Hillary Clinton clawing her way to the nomination could mean 25 percent McCain support from a radically depleted African-American turnout -- a prescription for disaster.

On the other hand, Pennsylvania exit polls project a massive defection by Clinton voters (with 32 percent of them "satisfied" only if she is the nominee). Many of these disaffected Democrats surely will be reconciled to Obama. Indeed, McCain privately warns key supporters to be prepared for a massive if temporary falloff in the polls once these unhappy Democrats return after Obama is nominated. But not all will return, and that is Pennsylvania's warning to the Democratic Party.

Robert Novak

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

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