By virtue of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s suspension of her campaign, Barack Obama is now poised to become the undisputed winner of the Democratic presidential nomination.
But he’s not the only victor to have emerged after the grueling, six-month primary season. Members of Congress and governors who took high-profile roles in the campaign are also drawing widespread recognition as winners — and they stand to reap the political dividends of backing the right candidate.
For some, it might mean a choice post in a prospective Obama administration. For others, betting on the right horse will translate into increased clout within the party or a virtual guarantee their calls will be promptly returned from an Obama White House. A few, namely those who took to the television airwaves as surrogates, will benefit from the burnished name recognition back home and in Washington.
Drawing on conversations with a range of Democratic and Republican operatives, Politico has compiled a list of these vicarious winners — and also the losers: the pols who couldn’t deliver, made the wrong bet or somehow came out of the primary season in worse shape than they were in when they entered it.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
Nobody got more national television exposure, or used it more effectively to advocate for Obama, than McCaskill. Suddenly everyone knows this freshman senator.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.)
Between the unusual display of subordinated Senate ego and his high-profile surrogate work for Obama, Durbin is widely thought to have enhanced his clout.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)
His endorsement, delivered at a critical time, allowed Obama to appear as both the candidate of change and the candidate of the Democratic Party, a rare combination not seen since Robert Kennedy’s 1968 candidacy.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
The House speaker gets credit for an exquisite play. She remained publicly neutral yet left enough breadcrumbs to suggest she favored Obama.
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.)
His star will only continue to rise after he signed on as the first congressman outside Illinois to endorse Obama.
Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.)
Though many of his South Florida constituents are big Clinton supporters — and Obama skeptics — Wexler bet big on Obama, even arguing his case before the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)
The House majority whip proved he casts a big shadow not only in Washington but back home, as well — despite failing to weigh in for Obama until the end of the primary season.
Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio)
His candidate ultimately lost, but Strickland gained stature after helping deliver his state to Clinton. He still draws serious mention as a veep prospect — even after remarking that the primary should not be about “selecting the next American Idol.”
Gov. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)
He was an Obama supporter before it was cool, and his very early endorsement was the kind that’s not easily forgotten.
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.)
He delivered big for Clinton and managed to stay relatively on message without losing his charm.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)
Clinton’s narrow victory in Indiana suggested Bayh had less juice than expected.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)
Inouye disparaged the Hawaiian-born Obama by suggesting the candidate had a privileged background, then rubbed salt in the wound by endorsing Clinton.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)
Lewis is widely believed to have diminished himself by the machinations surrounding his endorsement switch from Clinton to Obama.
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.)
Clarke was a Clinton supporter who won unwelcome notice for asking Obama to sign her copy of the New York Daily News. The headline that day: “It’s his party.” Worse, she ended up with a pro-Obama primary challenger.
Rep. Patric J. Murphy (D-Pa.)
On the one hand, the rookie congressman was an enthusiastic Obama supporter. On the other, he showed dangerously bad political instincts for a freshman: Obama lost badly in Murphy’s Bucks County backyard.
Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.)
Representing a competitive district, Mahoney failed to pick a side, suggested he wouldn’t attend the Democratic convention and, thus, drew the attention of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which was more than happy to mock him for his abundance of caution.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)
Waters was a Clinton endorser who hung in until the end, only to switch to Obama before the polls closed in South Dakota and Montana.
Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.)
Most Democratic freshmen from competitive districts were judicious with their endorsements. But none were quite as cautious as Ellsworth, whose position on the race was virtually indecipherable.
Gov. Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D-Puerto Rico)
An Obama co-chairman, he was forced to step down from his role after being charged with 19 counts of violating federal election and campaign finance laws. Then Clinton won Puerto Rico in a landslide.
Gov. Mike Easley (D-N.C.)
No one thought he’d deliver his state to Clinton, but his endorsement seemed to have almost no effect. And his comment about Clinton’s making “Rocky Balboa look like a pansy” didn’t win him many friends in the gay community, either.