03/07/2008 11:43 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's the Delegates, Stupid!

We can talk about negative advertising, and who will be answering the phone at the White House at 3 a.m., and say as "Ohio goes so goes the nation." Or we could raise $55 million in one month and talk about change in every speech. But the bottom line at this point in the presidential campaign is delegates.

The first person to cross the goal line with 2,025 delegates is the Democratic presidential nominee. Today the actual delegate count varies with each organization crunching the numbers. They range from Obama being ahead by 96 delegates according to CNN, to 105 according to The Washington Post, to 107 according to Fox News and USA Today. The numbers will change once again when the final count comes in from the recent caucus in Texas.

All of the talk on television from the same pundits, and the same writing on blogs and in newspapers going on and on about tactics, tax returns, advertising, change, experience and comparing campaigns to Ken Starr (wouldn't think the Clinton campaign would want to drag up that name and that issue from the past), and about being our advocate for the last 35 years, to being our agent for a new type of presidency, really pale into the background, as ultimately, one simply needs the delegates to become the party standard bearer.

And, to use a political analogy -- the 2000 presidential election recount showed that the candidate who was in the lead had the definite advantage throughout the entire ordeal. Bush was perceived as the leader/winner with his slight vote lead and Gore was perceived as the runner-up. It was Gore's job to overtake the leader in votes. It didn't happen then and it most likely will not happen now.

Currently, Senator Obama has the lead in delegates. The strange way the Democrats have of choosing delegates by proportional representation and giving more delegates based on how congressional delegations voted in previous elections makes it hard for the primary results to actually move either of the candidates very far ahead or fall very far behind.

While the candidate who wins the popular vote in the primaries gets the attention of the media, it is still the delegates that count. Often, the loser still comes up with approximately the same number of delegates as the winner -- sometimes the same or even more.

So, if the trend continues, Senator Obama will eke out a small lead in delegates by the time the primary season is over. Senator Clinton will pull out all the stops to try and overtake his lead. How she and her husband and her campaign will try and do this is anyone's guess, but it will not be a pretty picture.

In her victory speech after winning the popular vote in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, she said how she had been the winner in all the big states including Michigan and Florida. This statement is definitely untrue, as both primaries were uncontested contests.

This goes along with how her campaign tries to impugn the votes in caucuses as somehow not being legitimate because working people cannot make it to these events.

At this point, Senator Clinton can answer as many red phones as she wants and talk about all her foreign policy experience as First Lady -- does this include her foreign policy experiences as First Lady also in Arkansas? -- and her foreign trips to Beijing and elsewhere as First Lady. But the bottom line is still the number of delegates that are won in the primaries and caucuses. If she is behind in delegates she will not be the nominee.

It all sounds simple -- follow the delegate count. But there seems to be something troubling when a candidate who is behind in the delegate count talks about putting the person who is currently ahead in the race on her ticket in second place as the vice-presidential candidate.

I am teaching two graduate classes on the presidential election and the general feeling among the students in both classes is that the Clinton's are going to go outside the box and do something unusual to try and capture the nomination. No one can put it into words what the Clintons might do, but the feeling exists. Senator Clinton saying she won Michigan and Florida increases this unease about her upcoming strategy to capture the nomination.

Florida and Michigan should hold new primaries and hopefully that will be worked out.

The name of the game as it has always been is delegates, delegates and delegates. At this point Senator Obama has the lead. How he reaches 2,025 delegates and how Senator Clinton hopes to deny him that feat and go over that magic number herself is the whole ball game.

From Wyoming to Mississippi to Pennsylvania and Indiana and beyond -- it's all about the delegates, stupid!