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Ohio-Texas Two-Step: Winners and Losers

What a night!

In a presidential campaign that at every turn has rejected conventional wisdom, yesterday's voting in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont showed the two parties moving in vastly different directions.

For Republicans, the primary race came to an abrupt end. Sen. John McCain's (Ariz.) sweep of the four states put him over the 1,191 delegate threshold needed to formally claim the nomination. Faced with that reality, former governor Mike Huckabee (Ark.) graciously exited the race (more on that below).

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (N.Y.) primary victories in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island gave her considerable renewed momentum and likely ensures that the race between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won't be over until the late spring or even summer.

While McCain and Clinton were the obvious winners, there were a number of not-so-obvious victors last night. And, the Ohio-Texas Two-Step produced its fair share of losers as well. The Fix's take on the night's proceedings are below. Agree? Disagree? The comments section is open for business.

WINNERS

Ted Strickland: The Ohio governor was everywhere in the final days of the campaign in the Buckeye State, a sign that he understood the stakes not just for his endorsed candidate (Clinton) but also for himself. Elected in 2006, Strickland entered the primary season with extremely high favorable ratings across the state; a loss by Clinton would have been seen as a direct blow to those popularity figures. Clinton's win -- by a surprisingly convincing margin -- means that if the New York senator winds up as her party's nominee, Strickland is almost assured a spot in the vice presidential endgame.

Latinos: As they did in California and Arizona, the Hispanic community put Clinton over the top in Texas. According to exit polls in the Lonestar State, one in every three voters in the Democratic primary were Latino and that group went for Clinton, 67 percent to 31 percent, over Obama. (In Hidalgo County alone, Clinton won more than 60,000 votes as compared to just more than 20,000 for Obama.)

Mike Huckabee: How could Huckabee, who conceded defeat to McCain last night, be considered a winner? Because he left the race in the same way he entered it -- folksy and classy. It's clear that Huckabee did himself a huge favor looking down the road. He went from "who?" to "Huck" in the minds of many, many Republican voters across the country. That good will he engendered throughout the primaries should carry through the next few years as Huckabee ponders his future, which may well include another run for the White House in 2012 or 2016. Did his speech go on far too long last night? Absolutely. But how can you be annoyed with a guy who starts off the concession address with an extended George Brett analogy? Who else could have pulled that one off?

The "3 a.m. Phone Call" Ad: Like it or hate it, the ad worked for Clinton. Late deciders-- those who made up their minds some time within the last 72 hours before yesterday's vote -- made up roughly one-in-five voters in both Ohio and Texas. Clinton won that group 59 percent to 39 percent in Ohio and 61 percent to 38 percent in Texas. Those gains are not due solely to the "3 a.m." ad. It didn't even run in Ohio. But her big margin among late deciders suggests that Clinton's closing message, which focused heavily on national security and whether Obama was up to the task of serving as commander in chief, was the right one. "Voters in both states agreed that Hillary Clinton would be the best Commander-in-Chief and the strongest steward of our economy," read a Clinton campaign memo released this morning. "It's time for a second look."

Guy Cecil: Cecil, Clinton's political director, took over the helm after a series of senior staff departures in the middle of February. That gave him two weeks to fine-tune ground operations in Ohio and Texas that would be called on to save his candidate's political career. He did it.

Superdelegates: If you thought these 800 or so folks were getting a lot of attention before, just wait. A groggy Fix turned on the "Today" show this morning to catch a discussion between Ann Curry, Hoda Kotb and Norah O'Donnell over who the superdelegates were and how they will decide this race. That's prime time baby! If you are a superdelegate, we suggest turning off your cell phone -- immediately.

Ed Rendell: In the darkest days of February for the Clinton campaign, it looked as if the political world would be denied a fresh dose of the most entertaining Democratic politician this side of Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.). But, Clinton's wins yesterday mean that Rendell -- the ubiquitous and hyper-energetic governor of Pennsylvania and staunch Clinton backer -- will get his moment in the sun. Wasting no time, Rendell issued a statement proclaiming that his state would follow the lead of Ohio and Texas when the Pennsylvania primary is held on April 22. "We look forward to making our voice heard in the coming days and playing our part in determining the Democratic nominee," said Rendell. "And when we do, the people of Pennsylvania will send a clear message -- we want a President who is ready, not one we hope will one day be ready."

Stephanie Tubbs Jones: The Cleveland-area House member put a lot on the line in backing Clinton over Obama. Tubbs Jones was, by far, Clinton's most prominent African-American surrogate in Ohio; she was rewarded for her loyalty with a spot on the podium last night next to Clinton, Strickland and former Sen. John Glenn (D).

Political Junkies: Make no mistake: the Democratic race between Clinton and Obama is one for the ages. We are in the midst of the most unpredictable, fascinating and just plain old fun battle for the Democratic nomination in modern political history. Sit back and enjoy!

LOSERS

Howard Dean: The chairman of the Democratic National Committee now faces a close-to-impossible task. He must find a way to keep his party from splitting at the seams in the months before the national convention in late August. The first hurdle for Dean? Deciding what to do about the delegates in Florida and Michigan. It now seems likely the Clinton campaign will push for these delegates to be recognized -- the quickest and best way for the New York senator to close the delegate gap with Obama. It's hard to see how the Illinois senator's campaign goes along with any sort of proposal that seats those delegates. If Dean can solve that problem, he must then deal with an even thornier problem -- namely that Clinton's wins yesterday make it nearly impossible for either candidate to secure the nomination with pledged delegates alone. That means the superdelegates will be the deciders -- a nightmare scenario for party officials.

John Lewis: The Georgia Congressman, civil rights leader and superdelegate made a very public switch from Clinton to Obama last week. At the time, Lewis was seen as a leading indicator of a likely superdelegate avalanche for Obama following the Ohio and Texas contests. Clinton's strong showings yesterday seem to preclude that sort of landslide occurring any time soon. That said, Lewis' congressional district went overwhelmingly for Obama in Georgia's Feb. 5 primary, so endorsing the Illinois senator remains a good long-term political decision for Lewis.

House Republicans: Lost amid the intense focus on the presidential race were two Republican primaries -- one in Texas, one in Ohio -- that didn't work out all that well for the GOP. In Texas' 22nd district, perhaps the number one Republican takeover opportunity this fall, controversial former Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs led the Republican primary field. That means she will enter the April 8 runoff against Pete Olson, former chief of staff to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), as the favorite. National Republicans acknowledge that if Sekula-Gibbs wins the runoff, their chances of beating Rep. Nick Lampson (D) are greatly reduced. In Ohio's 2nd district, embattled Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) beat back a serious primary challenge to claim the Republican nod. That victory means that Schmidt will -- yet again -- be a major target of national Democrats. She will face off against Victoria Wulsin, who came within 2,500 votes of ousting Schmidt in 2006.

Iraq as an issue: The war -- and Clinton's 2002 vote in support of the use of force resolution against Iraq -- became a major point of contention in the last days of the campaign in Texas and Ohio. And yet, Democratic voters in both states responded with something of an electoral shrug. While one-in-four Texas voters cited the war as the top concern facing the country, they split their votes down the middle -- 49 percent for Obama and 49 percent for Clinton. In Ohio, one-in-five voters cited Iraq as the most important issue; Clinton actually led 51 percent to 48 percent among that group. What's clear is that while Iraq is still on the minds of many Democratic voters, there is no significant advantage -- politically -- for either Clinton or Obama on the issue.

Primary Challengers to former Presidential Candidates: Both Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) were forced to scale back their quixotic presidential bid because serious primary challenges were brewing in their home districts. While the opponents of Kucinich and Paul sought to portray them as out of touch with their constituents because of their national aspirations, voters seemed perfectly comfortable returning both men to Congress. Paul took 70 percent while Kucinich captured 50 percent in a five-way race.

The Fix's Vacation Plans: At this rate, Mr. and Mrs. Fix won't be jetting off to exotic climes until Spring 2009.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 5, 2008; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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