updated 1/28/2009 4:45:17 PM ET 2009-01-28T21:45:17

He is an old gent, in his eighties, but a hale and hearty one, wiry and strong.

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Ernie said that he'd never smoked, and drank but little, and watched what he ate.

These all good things, considering that he needed to work, and the work he did required him to lift bags — sometimes heavy, hard-shelled golf bags — for the businessmen who rode his rental car shuttle to and from the St. Louis airport.

He had been reared a Democrat, he said, as had nearly everyone in St. Louis in those days. It was Truman's time in Missouri — a state with more than a dram of Southern Comfort in its blood.

In recent decades, Ernie had voted for Republicans from time to time. But considering recent economic events, he said it was time to return to his ancestral political roots.

And then, in a tone that was as much confession as joy, he told me sheepishly: "I'm gonna vote for the colored boy. I like the way he's talkin'."

I think of Ernie, who I encountered when I went out to St. Louis for the vice presidential debate, when I hear all the talk about the so-called "Bradley Effect."

Even non-political junkies know the idea: some whites harbor racist beliefs and won't admit to polltakers what they really think, which is that they would never vote for an African-American candidate.

But assuming that there is indeed a Bradley Effect (named for the late mayor of Los Angeles), what if there's an opposite?

I'll call it the Ernie Effect — voters, especially older or more conservative voters in Red States, who don't want to readily admit to neighbors (or pollsters) that they will go into the voting booth and pull the lever for Barack Obama.

"What usually happens in larger races with an African-American candidates is that undecideds — usually less political, less educated — just break against him en masse," said Democratic consultant Jim Jordan.

But, it's also "conceivable," he said, "that in some parts of the country — the South, the rural Midwest — that there’s a certain stigma, among white working class men, that attaches to an Obama vote."

The Ernie Effect could exist anywhere, but

Could day that the effect could exist anywhere, but is being most closely watched, naturally enough, in battleground states such as... And then list those states.

The Democrat is in the midst of touring several battleground states right now - evidence that Obama and his campaign hierarchy believe in the Ernie Effect, even if they never met the man.

Yes they are flush with cash, ridiculously so, but these shrewd and meticulous people wouldn't be wasting candidate time and ad money in states such as West Virginia if they didn't think that whatever Bradley Effect there might be can be cancelled out.

So on Election Night keep a close eye on the exit polls as they compare with the actual raw vote. Look for semi-rural or exurban places where Obama is supposed to get his clock cleaned, but where - if I am right - the senator from Illinois may do better than the exits show.

In particular, look at the tossup states - all of them red in recent years: North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia - and yes, Missouri. They we'll know how many Ernies there are.

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