The candidate who once depended on inspiration is now depending on arithmetic.
Even though Barack Obama lost three primaries on Tuesday and still has 12 contests to go, he probably cannot lose his lead among pledged (i.e., elected) delegates to the Democratic convention.
But that does not guarantee him the nomination.
Hillary Clinton can overturn Obama's lead by using superdelegates the 795 party big shots who represent one out of every five votes on the convention floor and she can try to seat the "rogue" delegations from Florida and Michigan.
Both states were stripped of their delegates by the Democratic National Committee last year because they moved up their primaries in violation of party rules. Florida lost 210 pledged delegates and 28 superdelegates, and Michigan lost 156 pledged delegates and 25 superdelegates.
Both states went ahead and held their primaries anyway, and Clinton won both. Now she is pushing hard to get the two states seated at the convention in order to narrow the pledged-delegate gap between her and Obama.
"Under our projections, if you sat both the Michigan and Florida delegations as they now exist and based on our projections for the remaining contests, Sen. Clinton would still trail narrowly on pledged delegates going into the convention," a senior Clinton aide told me Wednesday. "But it would be very narrowly, and that would make a difference."
The Clinton campaign believes that using superdelegates to win the nomination which Clinton is fully intending to do would be far less controversial if Obama gets to Denver with a narrow lead of only about 30 or so pledged delegates.
And Michigan and Florida could help Clinton make up ground.
"I think Florida and Michigan should count," Clinton said Wednesday on NBC, a sentiment she has expressed many times.
Obama held his cards closer to the vest. "I think that we have played by whatever rules the DNC has put forward," he said.
Basically, the DNC has five options.
1. The Heck With Them Option: Michigan and Florida broke the rules and should suffer. If they are not made to pay for moving up their contests, 2012 will be even more chaotic than 2008. Strip Michigan and Florida of their delegates, and let the chips fall where they may.
2. The Kumbaya Option: Can't we all just get along? Let's seat Michigan and Florida the way the voters voted, and if this helps Clinton, that's the way the nomination crumbles. The major problem with this, however, is that neither primary was exactly normal. Clinton was the only person on the Michigan ballot, and all the candidates agreed not to campaign in Florida.
3. The Split the Baby Option: Give 50 percent of the delegates to Obama and 50 percent to Clinton. At least this way, the voters of Michigan and Florida will not be insulted and will not punish the Democratic nominee in November.
4. The Mulligan Option: Do it over. Hold new contests. Maybe a caucus in Michigan and a primary in Florida. (Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, has said he would support a do over in his state.) This option seems to be gaining in popularity within the party. The new contests could be held on the first Tuesday in June, along with Montana's and South Dakota's. Sure, this would cost millions, but nobody ever said democracy was cheap.
5. The Lone Ranger Option: Just wait for somebody to ride into town and save the day. Maybe Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean will be able to negotiate a settlement between Obama and Clinton. Except that a source at the DNC told me Dean is in no hurry to intervene. "He wants to let the voters have their say," the source said. "We need to take a step back. We still have 10 states [plus Guam and Puerto Rico] left to vote and 600 pledged delegates to be determined."
There are other wrinkles: The Clinton campaign is exploring whether the DNC broke party rules by stripping Florida and Michigan of superdelegates along with pledged delegates, and there are still the delegates won by John Edwards 39 overall, with 13 of them in Florida to be fought over.
But some think, ultimately, there is no real choice: Florida and Michigan have to be counted.
"If two of the most important states in the country are not seated at the convention, it has incredible implications for the Democrats in November, and the Republicans will use it against us," said Tad Devine, a former member of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee who is not aligned with any campaign.
Devine believes Florida and Michigan can vote again in a fair manner. "A new vote would favor whichever candidate has momentum in early June," he said. "A new vote could favor the candidate who has the resources to run ads in Florida and the candidate with the organizational ability to win Michigan."
But, Devine says, both sides should keep just one standard in mind.
"The nomination is only worth having if it strengthens you," he said. "If it tears the party apart, the nomination is not worth it."