Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Buyer's remorse was beginning to afflict supporters of Barack Obama before Tuesday's primary election returns showed he had delivered a knockout punch against Hillary Clinton. The young orator who had seemed so fantastic beginning with his 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech in Iowa disappointed even his own advisers over the past two weeks, and old party hands mourned that they were stuck with a flawed candidate.

The whipping Obama gave Clinton in North Carolina and his near miss in Indiana transformed that impression. The candidate who delivered the victory speech in Raleigh, N.C., was the Obama of Des Moines, bearing no resemblance to the gloomy, uneasy candidate who had seemed unable to effectively deal with bumps in the campaign road. Returning to his eloquent call for unity, the victorious Obama in advance dismissed Republican criticism of his ideology or his past as the same old partisan bickering that the people hate.

John McCain as the Republican candidate does not like that kind of campaigning, either. But a gentlemanly contest between the old war hero from out of the past and the new advocate of reform from the future probably would guarantee Democratic takeover of the White House. The Republican Party, suffering from public disrepute, faces major Democratic gains in each house of Congress -- leaving the defeat of Obama as the sole GOP hope for 2008.

Republicans were cheered and Democrats distressed by an inexperienced Obama's ineptitude in handled adversity the past month. The new Republican consensus considered Obama the weaker of the two Democratic candidates. Indeed, Hillary Clinton had finally shaken off pretensions of entitlement and consigned Bill Clinton to rural America, raising speculation that she would decisively carry Indiana and threaten Obama in North Carolina.

Clinton's failure Tuesday was a product of demographics rather than Obama's campaign skill. Consistently winning over 90 percent of the African-American vote, Obama is unbeatable in a primary where the black electorate is as large as North Carolina's (half the registered Democratic vote there). Indiana differed from seemingly similar Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Clinton scored big wins, because it borders Obama's state of Illinois, with many voters in the Chicago media market.

As the clear winner and the presumptive nominee, Obama in Raleigh Tuesday unveiled his general election strategy. Dismissing McCain's "ideas" as "nothing more than the failed policies of the past," Obama denounced what he called the Republican campaign plan: "Yes, we know what's coming. ... We've already seen it, the same names and labels they always pin on everyone who doesn't agree with all their ideas."

Robert Novak

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

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