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The Last Primaries: Winners and Losers

After five months of voting, the Democratic presidential nomination fight ended last night as South Dakota and Montana put Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) well beyond the magic number of delegates to secure his party's nomination over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

While Clinton chose not to concede and appears likely to weigh her options over the next few days, the race is over. Party leaders released a statement this morning urging superdelegates to make up their minds by Friday, while Obama picked up several influential endorsements over the last 12 hours from people like Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The presidential primary season is receding rapidly in The Fix's rearview mirror. But before it disappears entirely, we wanted to offer our take on the winners and losers from last night's votes.

As always, our picks are meant to start a conversation. Fixistas need to continue it in the comments section below. Agree with our picks? Disagree? Have some winners and losers of your own? Sound off.

WINNERS

Barack Obama: Throughout the primary season, we've tried to avoid putting the most obvious winners (or losers) on our list. But, it's impossible not to take note of Obama's accomplishment last night. It's easy to forget just how far the Illinois senator has come since delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The trajectory -- elected to the Senate with more than 70 percent of the vote, an immediate national draw on the 2006 campaign circuit, and, now, an upset of the First Family of Democratic politics -- is one that is rarely (if ever) seen in American politics. The scope of Obama's upset -- and whether it is truly the biggest one in modern history -- is something historians will surely debate in the weeks, months and years to come. Regardless of their ultimate decision, Obama is now in the history books as the first black candidate to lead a national ticket for either major party. And, in his speech last night, he showed he was up to the task. One of Obama's greatest strengths is his oratorical abilities and, as a result, expectations were high for his "acceptance" speech. He delivered.

Bobby Jindal/Tim Pawlenty: The Republican governors of Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively, got a nice run in the national media spotlight yesterday. In choosing to deliver his acceptance speech in Minnesota, Obama handed Pawlenty a gift; the Minnesota governor was tasked with leading the Republican counter-programming to Obama's address -- a prime perch given the level of attention being paid to the night. Jindal was tasked with introducing Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in Kenner, Louisiana last night and several of the major cable networks featured a portion of Jindal's opening remarks. Could it be a preview of what we'll see this fall?

Club For Growth: No independent group is more derided than the Club. Republicans see it as a trouble-maker, plucking often obscure candidates out of crowded primaries, bundling thousands of dollars to help them win the nomination and then leaving it to the party to ensure they are elected in the fall campaigns. (The most oft-cited example of this trend is Idaho Rep. Bill Sali.) While that may well be a fair criticism, it's become clear over the past two elections that no independent group is more effective at getting their way in contested primary fights than the Club. Last night produced two more high profile Club wins: Rep. Steve Pearce in the New Mexico Senate race and state Sen. Tom McClintock in the open 4th district in California. It's hard to argue with those sort of results.

House Republicans: Good news is hard to come by for the House GOP these days, but last night's primaries should help the party as they seek to limit their losses in November. In at least three contested seats -- New Mexico's 1st district, New Jersey's 3rd district and New Jersey's 7th district -- the Republican candidate with the best chance of winning in the fall won the primary nod. The news wasn't all good for House Republicans, as races in Alabama's 2nd and 5th are headed to July runoffs, which will make it more difficult for the party to hold two of their open seats. Still, in an election cycle in which nothing has gone right for House Republicans, last night was a better night than most.

McCain's Speech (content): McCain's address last night in Louisiana effectively framed his view of the coming general election: the right kind of change (McCain) versus the wrong change (Obama). It laid out the specific policy proposals on which McCain believes he offers the right kind of change in an attempt to draw a contrast with the allegedly empty rhetoric of Obama. It was a well-turned speech and showed that Mark Salter, McCain's longtime speech writer and alter ego, still has it.

LOSERS

Tom Daschle: The former senator from South Dakota wasn't able to deliver his home state for Obama -- a loss that prevented the Illinois senator from scoring a two-state sweep that would have made a nice, tidy ending to the nomination fight. It doesn't matter one bit in the larger context (Obama is still the nominee, Daschle is still in the running to serve as chief of staff or in a Cabinet post if the Democrat is elected in November). Still, the double-digit Clinton win amounts to egg on the face of the former Senate Majority Leader.

McCain Speech (delivery): McCain is never going to be the orator that Obama is and, frankly, doesn't need to match Obama's rhetorical flourishes in order to win in November. But, his halting delivery last night left much to be desired. Any one who has covered McCain knows that the Arizona senator is a funny, engaging presence on the campaign trail; his personality (and openness) is one of the reasons he has received such friendly coverage -- generally -- from the media during his two runs for president. McCain, however, has NEVER been comfortable delivering the "big" speech in which he lays out why he is the best choice to be president of the United States. Seeing McCain and Obama speak within 90 minutes of one another, the contrast between the two was readily apparent. It's a gap McCain will never make up, but he needs to find a way to close it somewhat between now and November.

Senate Republicans: Ladies and gentlemen, your GOP nominees for U.S. Senate: Chris Reed of Iowa and Bob Kelleher of Montana! Not exactly the A-team, huh? Primaries last night in Iowa and Montana produced Reed, a first-time candidate touting his opposition to abortion and illegal immigration, and Kelleher, an 85-year old lawyer who has run for office at least 13 times in Montana. President Bush won Iowa (narrowly) and Montana (by a much wider margin) in 2004, and at the start of the election cycle Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Max Baucus (Mont.) were high up on Republicans' target list. No longer.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 4, 2008; 4:24 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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