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Publication: Conservative Review
Deepening Democratic Dilemma

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March 25, 2008

Deepening Democratic Dilemma
By Robert D. Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Barack Obama's speech last week,
hastily prepared to extinguish the firestorm over the
Rev. Jeremiah Wright, won critical praise for style
and substance but failed politically. By elevating the
question of race in America, the front-running Democratic
presidential candidate has deepened the dilemma created
by his campaign's success against the party establish-
ment's anointed choice, Hillary Clinton.

In rejecting the racist views of his longtime spiritual
mentor but not disowning him, Obama has unwittingly
enhanced his image as the African-American candidate --
not just a remarkable candidate who happens to be black.
That poses a racial dilemma for unelected super-delegates,
who as professional politicians will pick the winner
since neither Obama nor Clinton can win enough elected
delegates to be nominated.


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Super-delegates, though they were inclined to Clinton no
longer than three months ago, now flinch at rejecting
Obama. They fear antagonizing African-Americans, who have
become the hard-core Democratic base. But what if national
polls continue their post-Wright trend and show Obama
trailing both Clinton and Republican John McCain in pop-
ular support? The Obama strategists' hope of reversing
that trend depends on his eloquent race speech, which he
continued to reprise on the campaign trail all week,
overcoming the video exposing his pastor's demagoguery.

Thanks to proportional representation, which was enacted
as part of radical Democratic reform a generation ago,
no candidate can replicate George McGovern's nomination
victory in 1972 by capturing winner-take-all primaries.
It is not mathematically possible for Clinton to score
heavily enough in the remaining nine primaries (starting
with Pennsylvania on April 22, and Indiana and North
Carolina on May 6) to move ahead of Obama in delegates or
accumulated popular vote. Those goals became unreachable
with the apparent Clinton failure to force a re-vote in
Michigan and Florida.

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That means Clinton must convince super-delegates that
Obama is not electable, as confirmed by national polls
-- validating this judgment by a neutral Democratic
leader: "It was a great speech, but it cannot overcome
the powerful (Wright) video." Since Obama's race
declaration, he has fallen behind McCain nationally in
various polls and trails by as many as eight points in
Rasmussen tracking.

In head-to-head tests with Clinton, he is two points
behind in Gallup tracking and has slipped in other
surveys, while still leading. Public polls for Pennsyl-
vania taken before Obama's March 18 speech showed
Clinton's narrow lead had expanded to double digits,
and private surveys since then indicate that the margin
is growing.

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.

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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.

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