There have been many words written in many places about the great political team that has carried Sen. Barack Obama to presumptive nominee status.
Chief strategist David Axelrod has, justifiably, received the majority of the ink, as he was primarily responsible for assembling the main parts of this team, especially campaign manager David Plouffe. A good Daily Kos diary on Plouffe can be found here.
You may be wondering, though, who exactly figured out the delegate-counting strategy that Obama used to confound the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton. Who amassed that now-famous spreadsheet showing how accurately Team Obama had projected future contests - months in advance? Who studied the obscure state and local delegate allocation rules? Who drew the road map that Obama has traveled to get to this point?
These are all critical questions. After all, every single campaign knew that the goal of the primary was to accumulate a simple majority of delegates. Without a good road map, though, even the best candidate and the best campaign can't do a thing.
Meet Jeffrey Berman, director of delegate selection for the Obama campaign. He is perhaps the least recognized, but arguably most indispensable, member of Obama's primary-election machine.
Politico's Ben Smith and Avi Zenilman did a profile on Berman that is, as far as I can tell, the only serious media recognition Berman has received anywhere. Yet his fingerprints are all over this historic primary campaign.
Probably the best example of Berman's influence can be found by looking at the Nevada caucuses. As is well known, Clinton won the popular vote in Nevada, and many - including the Associated Press - gave her an 8-7 win in delegates.
Smith and Zenilman tell the rest of the story:
Berman, Sen. Barack Obama’s director of delegate selection, chimed in during a conference call with the media to make an unexpected case: Despite Clinton’s popular vote victory in Nevada and an authoritative Associated Press count giving Clinton the edge in the Nevada delegate count, Obama had actually won the state by the only measure that mattered.
"Obama had a majority in the district that had an odd number of delegates, so he won an extra seat," Berman told the puzzled press; the Associated Press delegate expert, on the call, promised to revise his count.
Obama’s Nevada delegate victory was widely viewed at the time as a curiosity, an asterisk to Clinton’s win. But in February, as Obama amassed delegates despite losing big states, the shape of the race became clear: The name of the game was delegates.
It was the game Berman and a friend, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, had been playing all along. And as Clinton’s staff scrambled after Super Tuesday to remake her strategy to meet that reality, it began to become clear that Berman had helped build Obama a lead too big to surmount.
"He is the unsung hero of the Obama effort," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic consultant who supports Clinton.
Delegate selection is a tedious, labryinthine, and esoteric skill. It's only required once every four years, and immediately fades into the background as soon as the primary season is over. And, since Walter Mondale beat Gary Hart in 1984 for the Democratic nomination, it's also been a thoroughly unnecessary skill.
It requires someone who obsesses over trifles like congressional districts that award an odd number of delegates, versus which ones award an even number. Legal ability is of absolute importance, but it also requires a near obsessive-compulsive persona to master the intricacies in all 50 states.
People in political campaigns can be high-profile, low-profile and no-profile. David Axelrod is high-profile. David Plouffe is low-profile. Jeff Berman is no-profile...and that's exactly how he likes it.
However, because of Berman's masterful preparation, he has forever changed how future campaigns will look at delegate accumulation. The old model of "win Super Tuesday and roll from there", epitomized by the Clinton campaign, was left eating the dust of the Obama campaign.
There were some in the press who recognized Berman's capacity, but even they did not fully give him the credit he deserved. Albert R. Hunt of Bloomberg News wrote in a May 4 article on the gas tax holiday:
Right after the Super Tuesday presidential primaries on Feb. 5, Barack Obama's campaign strategists projected the outcome of every subsequent election. Of the 17 primaries and caucuses held since then, they were right on 16, missing only Maine, where Obama won a squeaker. (author note: Obama actually won Maine by 18 points.)
These strategists were so good that they even correctly called the vast majority of the 128 congressional districts that were in play within the states. The internal document - whose lead author was the chief delegate hunter, Jeff Berman - also shows they have been almost dead-on in delegate counts. They have run circles around Hillary Rodham Clinton's team.
Remember, now, that Clinton's delegate team was led by none other than Harold Ickes - the man with the encyclopedic knowledge of DNC rules, the 40 years of election experience and more profiles than an FBI psychologist. This is the man that Berman took to school.
As the Obama campaign so successfully stated and demonstrated in the primary, it was all about delegates - getting them, campaigning strategically for them, and keeping the opponent's gains down.
The concept of keeping delegate margins low was even more obvious when you look at the primary electoral maps. In many states, especially after March 4, Clinton won several big states by up to 10 percent: Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. Yet, she only netted a total of 25 pledged delegates from these three states combined.
Obama went into March 4 with an overall delegate lead of about 120. So, holding those three large pro-Clinton states, awarding a total of 425 pledged delegates, to small delegate losses was as critical to Obama's victory as running up caucus margins.
Berman's in-depth understanding of every state and every congressional district drove the campaigning strategy that Plouffe laid out. It explains why Obama visited and spent in various areas more than he did in others. It also played a big role in developing the grass-roots network that Obama now has in place to help drive his general-election campaign.
Now, as Obama pivots to the general election, all the machinations of the primary will fade into the backdrop of political history, as surely as Jeff Berman himself will. Berman, who spends his free time between elections as a lawyer with the DC firm of Winston & Strawn, will no doubt be happy to move back to DC to be with his wife and children.
However, as people like Robert Gibbs, Valerie Jarrett, Bill Burton, Matthew Nugen and Paul Tewes get their well-deserved moments in the sun alongside Obama, Axelrod and Plouffe, please save a toast for the man who found and cleared the path that Team Obama so assiduously paved and followed.
Without Jeffrey Berman, does Obama ever get to the general election? Fortunately, we'll never know.
(Primary statistics quoted in this diary are from CNN Election Center.)
UPDATE: Two minor edits made: In the Nevada recap, changed "the primary" to "Nevada"; added a note correcting the Hunt quote.