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The Bradley Effect

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                   February 12, 2008

The Bradley Effect?
By Robert D. Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Which Democrat really won Super Tuesday?
Thanks to the Democratic Party's proportional representation, 
it is not easy to say a week later. Sen. Hillary Clinton and 
Sen. Barack Obama ran a virtual dead heat for delegates that 
day in 22 states clearly stacked in Obama's favor. But the 
way Obama lost California raises the specter of the dreaded 
Bradley Effect.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American Democrat, 
in 1982 unexpectedly lost his candidacy for governor of 
California. His defeat followed voters telling pollsters 
they prefer a black candidate and then voting the other way. 
In California's primary last Tuesday, Obama lost by a land-
slide 10 percentage points after a late survey showed him 
ahead by 13 points and other polls gave him a smaller lead.


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Was this presumed 20-point reversal caused by the Bradley 
Effect, which has worried Democratic leaders about Obama 
since he became an obstacle to Hillary Clinton's majestic 
procession to the Oval Office? It is much too early for 
that conclusion, but the subject is in the minds and pri-
vate comments of Democratic politicians pondering the stale-
mate for the party's presidential nomination.

Other than an alarming racial gap separating supporters of 
the two candidates, Obama escaped from Super Tuesday without 
obvious damage. Clinton's capture of California, New York 
and New Jersey gave her the big states contested that day 
except for Obama's home state of Illinois and, under Re-
publican winner-take-all rules, would have put her on the 
way to the nomination. Instead, Obama got only a 13-delegate 
edge out of 1,681 delegates at stake Tuesday.

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That is bad news for Clinton, who now faces a temporary 
drought. The next three weeks belong to Obama, with nearly 
all 11 delegations to be selected in his favor, culminating 
in Wisconsin on Feb. 19. Clinton's strategists spread the 
word not to worry because of Texas and Ohio, two big states 
presumably favorable to Clinton, on March 4. With its large 
Hispanic vote, Texas looks good for Clinton, and Ohio less 

But proportional representation rears its head. Obama strate-
gists privately concede probable defeat in those two big 
states but losing their delegate competition by only 174 to 
160, a pitifully small margin of 14. The Obama team's calc-
ulation after all the primaries shows Obama with 1,647 dele-
gates and Clinton 1,580 -- both short of 2,025 needed for 
nomination. (This confidential information was accidentally 
e-mailed to Bloomberg News, which published it.) The issue 
could be settled by unelected, unpledged super-delegates, or 
a credentials fight over Florida and Michigan, who were 
stripped of delegates for scheduling their primaries too 

Going into a convention with the nominee unknown for the 
first time since 1952 upsets Democratic insiders not merely 
because of the uncertainty. Splitting the party along ethnic 
and racial lines is troubling -- especially in California, 
where massive Latino support for Clinton cancelled Obama's 
black base.


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However, disbelief in racial prejudice by their voters leads 
Democrats to reject speculation that they lied to pollsters 
in claiming to support Obama. The Zogby poll showing a big 
Obama lead in California and the Suffolk and Rasmussen sur-
veys indicating a slight edge, it is argued, were just plain 
wrong. It is also claimed that the state's final tally was 
skewed by an unexpectedly low African-American vote.

But early evening Tuesday briefings on exit polls, the prod-
uct of nonpartisan technicians, cautioned the listeners not 
to be carried away by favorable Obama numbers around the 
country because his actual performance often is overstated 
by exit polls. (Indeed, contrary to early exit poll signals
of an Obama upset in New Jersey, Clinton carried the state 
comfortably.) No explanation was given for this aberration, 
but many listeners presumed it was the Bradley Effect.

As much as the Democratic stalemate delights the news media, 
worried party leaders still hope that Clinton or Obama will 
break away in the popular vote before the party convenes in 
Denver late in August, even if neither achieves a majority 
of delegates.

Howard Dean, who was elected chairman of the Democratic 
National Committee after the 2004 elections in a rare mani-
festation of internal party democracy, let it be known he 
would be happy to mediate with the two candidates and pick 
a nominee in March or April. It was occasion for laughter 
in both the Clinton and Obama camps. 

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