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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.

Originally posted to blitzburgh64 on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:12 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  An odd number of cheers (9+ / 0-)

    for Berman (and the genius of his spreadsheet!)

    -6.0/-6.21 John McCain: he's not change you can believe in!

    by doctorgirl on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:16:31 AM PDT

  •  I love this part... (4+ / 0-)

    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.

    Because 59%-41% was totally a squeaker. ;)

    Send this Turn Maine Blue blogger to Denver! Click here to donate.

    by Eddie in ME on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:21:28 AM PDT

  •  proportional allocation of delegates (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GN1927, Quicksilver2723, doctorgirl

    made all the difference.

    it still shocks me how poorly the Clinton team dealt with this.

    thanks for the diary

  •  Popular Vote Victory Lies (4+ / 0-)

    As is well known, Clinton won the popular vote in the primar

    It might be well known, but it's wrong. As DKos has explained many times (probably as many times as Clinton and others lied about it), Clinton's popular vote victory is real only if you don't count the caucus states, and count the fake elections in Michigan and Florida.

    That's nonsense. Such lies don't belong in an otherwise good diary about Berman, who'd never tolerate them as fact.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:24:48 AM PDT

  •  us vs. them (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GN1927, petral

    I love the difference between Obama and the Republicans.  Obama said lets learn the rules inside and out and follow them to victory.  The Republicans say I don’t like the rules, lets cheat.

  •  Great information which explains (0+ / 0-)

    the complex organization of the Obama campaign.
    If the nominee was based on popular votes or who wins the "big states" then I'm sure they would have had a different strategy.  That's why they didn't focus on winning the big states and why the Clinton's camp keep claiming "big states" wins.

    Obama need to emphasize that his campaign strategy was reaping delegates as the Democratic party's rules are and not the type of states the nominee wins to get to the nomination.

    Nothing can stand in the way of a million voices calling for change! - Obama

    by jalenth on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:25:36 AM PDT

  •  Ickes' 40 Years of Bad Experience (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GN1927, Do Tell, Quicksilver2723, petral

    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.

    Ickes' 40 years include only 3 Democratic White House victory. One was Carter, who was a shoo-in following Watergate - but whose 1980 loss was a devastating indictment of the Democratic Party. Ickes might deserve some credit for 1992, but Bush Sr defeated himself, after 12 years that exhausted America's interest in him, amidst a major recession (the second under Bush's rule) and the entry into a new post Cold War Era. 1996 was like shooting fish in a barrel, with Clinton getting credit for the dramatic economic turnaround (and Dole being a boring rehash of his 1976 loss). The rest of the 10 elections, the other 7 lost, score Ickes no credit.

    Even in the Congress Ickes' 40 years are dismal. Democrats lost their long majority in a steady decline into corruption and Republican victories. They regained it in 2006 only on the strength of Bush's hideous record and other Republican collapse, not any Ickes victory.

    In fact, Ickes has so little to claim credit for, including his failure to win for Clinton this year (going out with his tawdry performance at the R&B Committee), that he deserves to be retired. It's true that Berman pulled off only a narrow victory over Ickes' Clinton campaign, but that shows more how much advantage Clinton had, with her name recognition, long presumed eventual victory, Party establishment favors, and long experience campaigning for president.

    I'm looking forward to Berman's career offering 40 years of victory, as the definitive lesson countering Ickes' 40 years of defeats.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:32:16 AM PDT

    •  I don't have any love for Ickes myself... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Do Tell, petral

      but if Ickes can be tagged for the overall Democratic Party struggles for his career, then you have to hold every other insider to that same standard - even if they had nothing to do with any of the campaigns.

      The Democratic Party, in general, has lacked direction for the last 40 years.  The only real exception was Bill Clinton moving the party closer to the center in 1992, which certainly worked politically (though it's something else I didn't really like).

      Time to put the smackdown on John "Sunni? Oh, Shi'ite!" McCain!

      by blitzburgh64 on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:36:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Is Berman's law firm "Winston and Strawn"? (0+ / 0-)

        Great piece and it is nice that all of the players are receiving recognition.

      •  Ickes' Resume (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Well, Ickes was credited (by you) with "40 years of election experience". That experience has been predominantly failure, as I detailed. If you can show me that Ickes' personal experience has been exceptional to that record (like if he worked on only the 1976, 1992 and 1996 campaigns), then I'll give him more credit. As it stands, Ickes stands out as exceptionally losing.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:48:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You're being a bit difficult. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Harold Ickes has been involved with the Democratic Party (mostly through the DNC) for those 40 years.  Anyone who's as far inside the party as he is (RBC member, DLC member) certainly can claim experience with election involvement.  This doesn't mean he's worked as a staff member on every Presidential campaign.  

          Again, I don't like the man personally.  But I don't see the accuracy in saying he's a failure without acknowledging that every other politician involved with the Party over the same period is also a failure.  And I don't think that "acknowledgement" is either fair or accurate.

          This distracts from the point of the diary, though, so I'll leave my observations at that.

          Time to put the smackdown on John "Sunni? Oh, Shi'ite!" McCain!

          by blitzburgh64 on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 10:57:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm Trying to Mean Something (0+ / 0-)

            I'm just sticking to the facts here. I think that's what you're finding difficult. My facts and summary analysis show that "40 years of experience" isn't necessarily good. When those 40 years are spent mostly losing, they're bad.

            This is a relevant point, because Clinton ran on that "greater experience" meme, and her larger experience isn't necessarily better. The same is even more true of McCain.

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 11:11:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It's completely irrelevant to the diary's point. (0+ / 0-)

              The Democratic Party - as a WHOLE - has not done well on a Presidential basis in the last 40 years.  Singling Ickes out for that failure - while ignoring other figures who have been as (or more) directly involved, be they candidates or power brokers - makes no sense.

              Obviously, experience by itself is not a determining factor.  But your particular conclusion about Ickes ("he's a loser") is poor, because the reason you give for it ("he's been around for 40 years, and the Dems have lost 7 of 10 Presidential elections in that time") can easily be extended to any Democrat with that same length of experience.  

              Berman started in Dem politics in 1983, on John Glenn's Presidential campaign.  He's been involved in delegate selection ever since.  He's lost 4 of the last 6 elections.  What a loser. chuckle

              Time to put the smackdown on John "Sunni? Oh, Shi'ite!" McCain!

              by blitzburgh64 on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 12:13:22 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Then Don't say "40 Years Experience" (0+ / 0-)

                You're the one who cited Ickes' "40 years experience". I'm pointing out how that doesn't mean what you used it to mean. You're the one who made that point part of your diary. I'm pointing out that it's a misleading point, at best.

                And since the "experience" argument was part of Clinton's campaign, and the only basis for McCain's, that point is extremely important.

                Look, you made that point, and I disagreed with it. My disagreement is factual, logical, and relevant to both that point your diary made and to the bigger picture. It's not going away just because you don't like it. If you're going to present Ickes' as formidable because of his "40 years experience", I'm going to point out that it's not a formidable 40 years. It was a losing 40 years.

                Oh, and you're factually wrong about Berman, who is almost always just a lobbyist lawyer for AirCell.. The Politico article you based your diary on, as you mentioned yourself, explains that Berman's skills are used only one of every 4 years. So at most that would be "25 * 1/4 years experience". But the Politico article also explains that Berman sat out 1992, 1996 and 2000, reappearing in 2004 (only for Gebhardt's abortive primary). So that might be "4-8 years experience". But again, as Politico explained, only in 1984 and 2008 has Berman been a player in a delegate game that really counted. "2-3 years experience". While Ickes indeed has been very busy in every election in those 40 years.

                I think that the point about better vs greater experience is made very well by Berman's vs Ickes' career. And that your diary makes that point, even though you don't seem to like it.

                "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

                by DocGonzo on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 01:51:12 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Your "point" is irrelevant and ill supported. (0+ / 0-)

                  You make this factually incorrect assertion:

                  While Ickes indeed has been very busy in every election in those 40 years.

                  Ickes is not solely (or even primarily) responsible for the last 40 years of Democratic issues.  For that matter, as far as I can tell, he's not been directly involved in that many Presidential campaigns.  

                  He was Ted Kennedy's campaign manager in 1980.  He was Bill Clinton's NY state director in 1992.  He ran Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign in 2000, and was her delegate chief this year.  He also gets credit for running David Dinkins' re-election campaign for NYC mayor in 1989.  That HARDLY makes him responsible for the last 10 elections.  In fact I'd say he is, as of right now, batting .500.  Take away 1992, 1996 and 2000 from Berman, and he's 0-for-2 (1984 - John Glenn; 2004 - Richard Gephardt).  (source:  Wikipedia; search - Harold M. Ickes)

                  Of course, as a delegate expert, he's certainly been called and tapped for suggestions and advice throughout his time in politics.  Just like Ickes, due to his knowledge of DNC rules and party politics, has been tapped as well.  That's why they have experience from day one - even if they're not paid members of a campaign staff.  

                  (An example from the dark side:  Karl Rove has NO role in John McCain's campaign, but even he acknowledges that he's talked to the McCain people.  That's common for strategists on both sides.)

                  THIS underlines the point that you can't make general statements like the one you made about Ickes - because the logical extension tars a lot of good Democrats.  

                  Time to put the smackdown on John "Sunni? Oh, Shi'ite!" McCain!

                  by blitzburgh64 on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 02:14:03 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Then Don't Say "40 Years Experience" (0+ / 0-)

                    I didn't say Ickes is solely responsible for the last 40 years of Democratic campaigns. That is a straw man you keep trying to pin on me, but cannot.

                    But you did say Ickes has "40 years experience". And you just confirmed it (BTW, it's factually incorrect that Dinkins' 1989 campaign was his reelection).

                    So in fact either you cannot compare Ickes' "40 years" to anything, or even if you can, you can't compare it to Berman's. Because Ickes does a lot more than just map delegates to win, and Ickes' campaigns have hung on his work, while Berman's narrow (though essential) specialty has mattered only twice: 1983-4 and 2007-8.

                    If you're going to make that comparison - again, you're the one making it - then I'm going to find fault with it. And your rebuttal that a lot of Democrats are losers by that measure - your measure - doesn't at all contradict my point. In fact the last 40 years have been riddled with much more Democratic defeats than victories, despite Democrats (members, not party personnel) outnumbering Republicans the whole time.

                    BTW, Rove does in fact have a real role in McCain's campaign, as has been documented on DKos.

                    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

                    by DocGonzo on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 03:43:15 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  How did the Obama team happen to hire (0+ / 0-)

    Berman? I think he has worked for other campaigns, or with some of the Obama people before.

  •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    for doing this profile on someone who's proved to be such a critical part of the Obama campaign's success.

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