NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For a few months per election cycle, Associated Press journalist Stephen Ohlemacher is arguably the most important political reporter in the world. Ohlemacher's AP delegate count encountered lofty attention during the 2008 Democratic primary as then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton duked it out in one of the more memorable contests in U.S. primary history.
Meet Stephen Ohlemacher. You'll be hard-pressed to find a photo of him, but he might be the most important political reporter in the world. Pin It
"I haven't been yelled at too much this time around," Ohlemacher says on the phone from his office in Washington, D.C. "Four years ago it got really heated. It was fantastic -- I mean, I would get calls from West Coast newspapers every night when they were trying to put together charts and graphics on the delegates." The process is tedious and time consuming, and it's a full-time job, Ohlemacher says. But the reporter talks about delegate counts as if he's about to devour a hearty Sunday morning breakfast. Ohlemacher, along with various AP writers and stringers strewn across the country and its territories, began preparing for the Republican primary process late last summer. He started by calling the Republican National Committee to find out how many delegates it allocated to each state. Then he called all the state Republican parties to find out their bylaws and primary procedures (caucus or primary, winner-take-all or proportional). Some state party Web sites, he says, had a lot of the necessary information, but Ohlemacher wanted to be as detailed and precise as possible. He called party chairmen, spokespeople, executive directors or whoever was in charge of each state's primary or caucus. "Everything down to all the different details -- ... I check out every resource when I'm trying to find information -- but just simple things like: how do you round? You know, do you round up? Is it standard rounding? You know, 0.5 is up, below 0.5 is down. Some states don't round at all -- they just would hold delegates, and any delegates that are left over they give to the highest vote-getter," Ohlemacher says, rattling off these technicalities without a pause for breath. "Which is fine, you know, they can do it any way they want, the problem is you have to figure out exactly how they plan to do that -- do it accurately."
Ohlemacher, who has worked for the AP since 2005 and has managed the familiar delegate counter for the 2012 and 2008 presidential primary races, repeatedly credits the vast network of AP reporters and his boss for keeping track of up-to-the-minute delegate counts. Surely one man doesn't have the final say on what the AP will tally on its influential delegate scorecard. Surely one man didn't make the call to follow the Michigan GOP's decision to give Mitt Romney 16 delegates and Rick Santorum 14 delegates when Santorum and his supporters argued they should be evenly split. Surely. The country, nay, a large part of the world every week in 2008 seized their newspapers or jumped on the Internet to scour through the infamous "super delegates" and regular, ho-hum delegates to determine if Obama or Hillary had the upper hand in the hotly contested Democratic contest. "Oh yes, yeah ... I'm the one who does it, yeah," Ohlemacher says. Ohlemacher chuckles and says his boss has to check it as well, but, yeah, it's just him. Ohlemacher's final decisions on delegates are mostly mathematical -- either you have a delegate or another candidate has it -- but five caucus states, he says, pose a difficult hurdle. Minnesota's caucuses offer a good example of this. The AP, or Ohlemacher, show a tight race: Paul 18, Santorum 16, Romney 3, Newt Gingrich 1 and 2 unallocated. According to TheGreenPapers.com, one of many sources Ohlemacher says he uses to help determine the most precise standings possible, Ron Paul holds 20 delegates in Minnesota while Rick Santorum has two. Three remain uncommitted, as they are the three party leaders who technically must remain unbound until the national convention, and 15 are still available. So why would Ohlemacher appoint Minnesota's national delegates who have not yet been selected at the state convention scheduled for mid-May? "At the state convention, Minnesota will select 13 at-large delegates. We make that initial projection on Feb. 7 about what would happen at the state convention if everything stayed the same, and I just leave that as is until we get to the state convention," says Ohlemacher. So Santorum still holds a lot of delegates for the AP's Minnesota caucus projection because the Feb. 7 straw poll projects Santorum to grab a lot of national delegates in the state convention. Santorum will likely lose those delegates as he is no longer in the race. The scorecard is constantly morphing, and with Santorum's exit earlier this month and Gingrich's announcement of an impending exit, unbound delegates have the freedom to switch their allegiance to Romney or Paul. Ohlemacher credits local and state reporters for doing enormous leg work involving in calling those delegates to finding out if they have shifted their support. "Santorum and Gingrich dropped out, so that just meant there's another 400 people we have to call, because we have to find out what their delegates are going to do," Ohlemacher says. Though most news outlets and politicians have declared Romney the presumed-nominee -- essentially awarding him a victory -- Ohlemacher is still arms deep in the uneventful GOP contest.
"Everybody says, 'Oh, your job's over now; it's over right?' I'm like, 'Oh, it's not over yet," Ohlemacher laughs. "I mean it's not over because -- you know, everyone knows Romney's gonna get there, but we still keep track of it and we're going to chart it until he does get to 1,144 delegates ." Ohlemacher says that before the primary season heated up, he spoke to each of the Republican candidates' campaigns and offered to share the AP's information in advance how it plans to calculate every state. Just to be transparent, as he says. The open line of communication was to allow the campaigns a chance to raise any issues they had with the process. Ohlemacher says some of the campaigns communicated with him throughout the 2012 primary season, while others didn't, which was mostly due to who had enough staffing to do so. In 2008, he says Obama and Clinton both had delegate experts who called him constantly to stay on top of the numbers. "Like I said, I don't claim to have a monopoly on all of this," Ohlemacher says. "It's like what any reporter does when you're trying to research a story: you call as many people as you can to get input and then you start writing your story." When the primary races officially end in June, Ohlemacher will have more time to return to his demanding beat on Capitol Hill -- covering social security and tax policy. The veteran reporter -- he says he's been in the profession since 1990 -- will have a dénouement of sorts as he expects to return in November to the AP's election team to help make the organization's state-by-state projections and ultimately help call the presidential victor on Election Day. "To be honest with you, it feels like being -- it IS being part of the Democratic process, and, you know, keeping as accurate as possible count of the delegates, that's how you win the nomination, and it does play a significant role," Ohlemacher says and then pauses. "I don't really take myself terribly seriously, but I take the job very seriously." -- Written by Joe Deaux in New York. >Contact by Email. Follow @JoeDeaux