The Democrats may be heading for a fine mess.
Because of party reforms in the past and a close race for delegates this year, a nightmare scenario is building for the Democratic National Convention in August: It is easy to imagine that Barack Obama could get to Denver with more pledged delegates than Hillary Clinton, but that she could get the nomination based on the votes of the superdelegates.
"And that," a senior Obama aide told me Tuesday night, "would create havoc."
Pledged delegates are those won in primaries and cacucuses. Superdelegates are party big-shots.
The Associated Press, CNN, CBS and a website called 2008 Democratic Convention Watch all disagree on exactly how the superdelegates are currently split.
But they all agree that Clinton has more of them than Obama, with hundreds still up for grabs.
Being a superdelegate is usually just a way of getting to go to the convention, cast a meaningless vote and have a good time.
But that could change this year.
And that's because superdelegates make up one-fifth of all the delegates at the convention, and this year they could determine the nominee.
As Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson puts it: "The process is designed really to avoid picking a nominee rather than (to) pick one."
In other words, by banning winner-take-all contests and by awarding delegates on a proportional basis, the Democrats draw out the process.
They do this to be "fair" and to protect underdog candidates.
Usually it doesn't matter. But this time it could because the pledged delegate race could be so close.
"We have a 15 pledged delegate lead going into tonight," David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, said on Super Tuesday evening.
(The number, with California still being counted, would grow to 43 according to the Obama campaign.)
"And with the superdelegates, we have made real progress. Before Iowa, Sen. Clinton had a lead over 100 to 120 and we have whittled that down to 55 by our count. A lot of [superdelegates] who chose Sen. Clinton, chose her last year. We think we will continue to do well."
The system of superdelegates was invented not just to reward party fatcats, but to make sure "fairness" did not get out of hand.
Superdelegates are designed to protect front-runners and make sure dark horses don't run away with things.
Superdelegates grow in number as the party gets more successful: They include all Democratic members of Congress, members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic governors.
They also are the party warhorses and include "all former Democratic Presidents, all former Democratic Vice Presidents, all former Democratic Leaders of the U.S. Senate, all former Democratic Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic Minority Leaders, as applicable, and all former Chairs of the Democratic National Committee."
This means that not only Bill Clinton, but Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, are superdelegates.
And their votes count just as much as the delegates chosen by actual primary voters.
But what happens if the margin of victory at the convention is the superdelegates. Is that the the way the party really will choose a nominee?
By letting the big-shots pick the winner?
Instead, there could be a huge floor flight. The convention can make whatever rules it wants, and I am guessing there would be a fight to bar the superdelegates and accept the votes of only the pledged delegates.
And then there is the problem of Florida and Michigan, whose delegates, both pledged and superdelegates, are currently banned.
The Clinton campaign has announced it wants them to count.
"There is a role for superdelegates as per the rules of our party, and they are not rules that we set," Wolfson of the Clinton campaign said.
"We will play under rules we are given. (But) we believe the delegates from Michigan and Florida ought to be seated.
But how do you really do that? In Michigan, Hillary Clinton was the only name on the Democratic ballot.
In Florida, Democratic candidates were banned from campaigning.
Are the Democrats really going to seat them if they could make the difference in who wins and who loses?
As I said, a fine mess. Which, quite possibly, could lead to something we are not used to: A convention that is more than just a TV show whose ending we know in advance.