Harold Ickes sweats the details.
In 1973, while working on the New York mayoral campaign of Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo, Ickes bit a man on the leg in a tussle over what Ickes considered a bad sound system.
In 1992, when Ickes was running the Democratic convention for Bill Clinton, Ickes forced a guy to climb up into the rafters of Madison Square Garden with a large knife to cut the netting in case the balloons did not drop properly. The Secret Service nearly shot the guy.
Ickes also has worked in the campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, Ed Muskie, Morris Udall, Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Jesse Jackson. But when Jackson was thinking about running against Bill Clinton in 1996, Ickes did everything he could to sabotage Jackson's efforts. (Ickes was successful.)
Times change, and candidates change. Today, Ickes is working for Hillary Clinton.
Ickes has served on the Democratic National Committee and on its powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee for years and is a consummate party insider. "Our party is fairly complicated," he said recently, which also shows that he has a gift for understatement.
Ickes believes, as do most analysts, that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama will get to the Democratic National Convention in Denver with enough pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses to secure the nomination.
Which means that the superdelegates, who are party big shots, will have to choose the nominee.
"They are supposed to exercise leadership," Ickes said of the superdelegates Monday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. "They are not sheep."
But should they be kingmakers? (Or queenmakers?)
While superdelegates were originally conceived as a check on the ability of a dark horse candidate to run away with the nomination, the superdelegates have grown into a massive force.
About one out of every five delegates at the Democratic convention will be a superdelegate, and by my calculation, 56 percent of the superdelegates are members of the DNC, which lends a certain "smoke-filled room" aspect to the nominee selection process.
It was not always thus. In 1988, the Rules and Bylaws Committee stripped DNC members of their superdelegate status. Though the status was later restored, do you know who led the charge to kick DNC members out of the superdelegate pool?
"Yes, I stripped them, and I was working for Jesse Jackson at the time and we thought automatic [i.e., super] delegates represented too much of an institutional interest and they didn't recognize the qualities of someone like him," Ickes told me in a phone interview a few days ago.
Some might now argue that superdelegates still represent an institutional interest and don't recognize the qualities of someone like Barack Obama. But there has been some momentum toward Obama among the superdelegates recently.
The fact that superdelegates will choose the nominee will not be a problem as long as the superdelegates end up voting for the candidate who won the most pledged delegates in the primaries and caucuses. But will they?
I asked Ickes if he actually believes superdelegates would vote for Clinton if Obama is leading in pledged delegates heading into the convention.
"I think it depends upon the amount by which he leads," Ickes said. "There is a degree here. If he were to lead by one pledged delegate I don't want to be pinned down to a number there would be a difference than if he were leading by 500."
In other words, Ickes believes that if Obama has only a very narrow lead, Clinton could get away with using the superdelegates to overturn that lead.
But I wonder. It seems to me that a huge battle and a badly divided party would result, especially if black voters felt that their party had betrayed them by using the votes of big shots to replace the will of the people.
"There will be some hurt feelings initially," Ickes said. "But in a very tight election, Barack Obama will swing in behind Hillary Clinton and black people will vote for her and she will be able to bring in Hispanic voters also."
Nobody has ever accused Harold Ickes of being a Pollyanna, but I think that is a very optimistic view of things.
"Look, I am filled with pride when I look at Obama," Ickes said. "He is an extraordinary candidate. But so is Hillary Clinton, and when push comes to shove, our obligation is to nominate the candidate with the best chances in the fall. That is Hillary Clinton."