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Washington Matters

Buckle Up: More Jolts Ahead

After New Hampshire, it seems that the Democrats will have far more of a dog fight on their hands than pollsters, pundits and even the campaigns had thought. The reason-- unpredictable polls. Every major poll in New Hampshire -- and internal polls of the candidates -- had predicted that Barack Obama would defeat Hillary Clinton with relative ease, 5-9 points. Instead, Obama had to rush to write a concession speech.

Polls in the Iowa caucuses Iowa, generally regarded as far more difficult to gauge accurately, were fairly accurate; polls in the GOP race were less uniform than in the Democratic race but generally had it right. So what went wrong? There are bound to be several causes and many more theories. Clinton's display of emotion and passion the day before voting; a desire by Democrats to keep the race competitive; independents swarming to John McCain instead of Obama. But there's another less talked about possibility that gives voice to one of the most whispered about fears of Democratic Party operatives: that many voters aren't prepared to vote for a black candidate even though they tell pollsters they would. Pollsters have long been aware of a pattern of black candidates polling much better than the actual results. Was race a factor in New Hampshire? We may never know. But it's another possible twist in a year where conventional wisdom has been wrong more than right and the electorate impossible to read with much confidence.