At last Monday night’s Atonement party a Manhattan-based columnist said in a somewhat alarming way (i.e., alarming for his tone of certainty) that the Democratic Presidential race is all but over, that Hilary Clinton is too far ahead of Barack Obama not to have it in the bag (the latest Rasmussen Reports poll of likely Democratic primary voters gives her 42% to Obama’s 22%), and that the essence of Obama’s problem, above and beyond his surreal lack of support from black voters, is subliminal Jim Crow racism, plain and simple.

The columnist didn’t say this, but the bottom line is that the Democratic primary race between Clinton and Obama is starting to look vaguely analagous to the Best Picture Oscar race between Crash and Brokeback Mountain.

Clinton, the lesser candidate, is fated, I fear, to beat Obama because of a subliminal factor that voters won’t admit to, much less talk about, just as Crash, the lesser film, beat Brokeback Mountain because of a more-or-less unmentionable prejudice among older Academy voters that I’ve previously called “geezer homophobia” (i.e., a primal revulsion at the idea of the ridin’ and ropin’ American cowboy — an iconic figure if there ever was one — being cast in an effeminate light by modernist p.c. liberalism).

Go outside the big cities, the columnist said, and America is a nation of rubes and crackers. As fair-minded and issue-driven as these voters like to portray themselves wth pollsters, the bottom line is that they’re constitutionally incapable of voting a black man into the White House. As far as these voters and Barack Obama are concerned, the columnist suggested, the ’08 race is a kind of a dry-run, getting-used-to-the-idea exercise that may allow for attitudes and conditions in 2012 or 2016 in which a black man (Obama or someone else) might stand a chance….maybe.

I’ve said this before, but Obama is too intelligent, too eloquent and attractive, too well-funded and too un-damaged by minor gaffes for him to be this far behind Clinton. It doesn’t figure — it doesn’t add up. I don’t like it and it gives me huge indigestion to admit it, but a voice is telling me that the Manhattan columnist is right.

What happened to Arianna Huffington‘s assessment of the situation a few months ago that Democratic voters “feel married to the Clintons but they love Barack Obama”? What happened to the emotional groundswell factor, that feeling that “it has to be” Obama, that Hilary Clinton is yesterday…a ’90s baggage lady who will arouse primal negativity among red-state voters in the general election? I don’t have a big problem with Clinton (she’s certainly preferable to the Republican hopefuls) but she doesn’t turn me on and she never will.

Postscript: A reader who asked for anonymity says my Obama-support analysis is “off,” in part because “just about every poll out there right now is limited to party affinity. Democrats are being polled about Democrat candidates and GOP for GOP. You overlook the point that in just about every poll that does put Obama head to head with Republicans, he wins…sometimes by six to eight points.

On top of which “Obama’s base of support is very different from Clinton’s or anyone else’s for that matter: They are younger and wireless. This means that a large pool of supporters simply aren’t participating in the traditional polling and data mining processes that the political establishment uses, because they aren’t reachable without a landline phone. Sensible political types assume that Obama’s support is broader than the polling indicates.”