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Morning Thoughts: Wiped-Out Wednesday

Good Wednesday morning. No one needs sleep when they're hopped up on adrenaline (and Red Bull), especially after the biggest primary day in American history. A brief look, before we pass out, at what Washington is thinking this morning after Super Tuesday:

-- What happened last night? On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton won eight states and American Samoa, including California. Barack Obama won thirteen states. Republican John McCain won nine states, including California, while Mitt Romney took home seven primaries and caucuses and Mike Huckabee won five. New Mexico remained too close to call at 2 a.m., when this piece is written.

-- John McCain will be portrayed this morning as the big winner for Republicans. His night included wins in important delegate-rich states like New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Missouri and his home state of Arizona. But his wins also showed his inherent weakness: McCain lost to Romney in the Copper State among those who said illegal immigrants should be deported, and by a wide margin, and among those who said illegal immigration was their top issue. Plus, the front-runner didn't slam the door on the nomination, as he could have. Romney's campaign suggested early in the night that McCain underperformed, and they may be correct. McCain won, but he didn't dominate.

-- Mike Huckabee's post-election speech had a much different tone than his speech after South Carolina, in which he sounded depressed and resigned to his fate. Huckabee won some big states tonight, including Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and his home state of Arkansas, by a wide margin. He said the media had cast this as a two-person race, implying the lack of attention his campaign had received. He also suggested it is, in fact, a two-person race, though between himself and McCain, leaving Romney on the sidelines. Many continue to suggest that Huckabee remains a distant third, but he had a pretty good evening, and it will likely propel him to future contests. Huckabee suddenly finds himself in excellent position to win the anti-McCain primary and outlast Romney in the race.

-- Mitt Romney's night ended in disappointment, as networks called California for McCain early. In fact, in virtually every state where more than one candidate competed, Romney came in second, or worse. Only in Massachusetts, his home state, where McCain had campaigned on Monday, did Romney beat the competition. In his other wins -- in Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado and Montana -- no other candidate showed up. In fact, he's only won one state, Michigan, when other candidates were heavily involved. That suggests Romney's ceiling is low, and the California loss was perhaps the final nail in the coffin of his campaign. Romney has a budget and strategy meeting in the morning, and after tonight, the moment he decides to keep his powder dry for another shot in four years looks like it is approaching rapidly.

-- Barack Obama had a mixed night. He began strong, demolishing Clinton in Georgia, but lost key states Massachusetts, Arizona and California. Still, he gets to say he won more states, and he won more delegates, than Clinton did, which is no small feat, and that he won in heavily red states like Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota and Utah. The longer Obama draws this contest out, the better chance he has to introduce himself to voters, and the more he can cut into Clinton's lead. A big night on Super Tuesday was always part of Obama's plans; he got most of that wish, and he's set himself up in strong position for the next several contests.

-- Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, didn't have a bad night either. She won fewer states and fewer delegates, but she won the big enchilada in California, and by a wider margin than anyone expected. The campaign clearly didn't win Super Tuesday, but they didn't lose either. After early exit polls, circulated among the media in the afternoon, showed Clinton getting killed in several states she ended up winning -- those coming after polls repeatedly showed her losing ground to Obama -- her performance starts to look like something of a comeback, and that's the way her campaign will spin it. Still, the Clinton camp needs to figure out where its next win comes from, and they need to make sure it's a big one if she is to regain the lead.

-- The big winners tonight: Democrats, whose voters turned out more than Republicans by about a two-to-one margin (according to GOP "architect" Karl Rove). Their astonishing trend of everyone showing up continues, and at some point voting officials in future states -- there are still a lot of contests to go -- need to start printing up more ballots. Super-endorsers on the Democratic side, including Al Gore, Bill Richardson and John Edwards; as the contest continues through several later states, their nods become all the more valuable, and they can, in the case of Richardson and Edwards, write their own tickets. Gore, on the other hand, can make sure his pet issue of global warming remains front and center in the next Democratic administration.

-- The big losers tonight: Democratic surrogates, who did not have a stellar record of turning out their states for their preferred candidates. In Massachusetts, the state's three top Democrats, Deval Patrick, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, couldn't swing their state towards Obama. Same in Governor Janet Napolitano's Arizona, which despite her Obama endorsement went to Clinton, and Claire McCaskill, whose home state of Missouri barely went to Obama. Conversely, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius looks pretty good after delivering nearly three-quarters of her state's caucus delegates to Obama.

-- The big picture: For Democrats, the race goes on, and while no one gets to declare outright victory, Obama's team looks in much better shape than Clinton's does. Add in a huge fundraising advantage in January and Obama's path to victory looks a lot more plausible than it ever has. For Republicans, the race narrows, and the question may become not whether Huckabee steals votes from Romney, but whether Romney is stealing votes from Huckabee. Will leading conservatives start to take another look at Huckabee?

-- Incendiary Post Of The Day: Another big loser: Ron Paul, who despite assurances that he would finally do well enough in a state to make headlines, came in a distant third in Alaska. The Ron Paul era looks like it's come to a close, and libertarian Republicans may start looking to another candidate in the future. To stem the tide of angry pro-Paul emails, here's a name to mull: Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who considered running for the Libertarian presidential nomination in 2004. Johnson, some Paul fans suggest, could be a more attractive candidate in the future.

-- Today On The Trail: To be updated as the day progresses, but only McCain and Obama have public events scheduled thus far. Obama will meet the press in Chicago before heading to Washington, where Harry Reid will be happy to see him and get his vote back, at least for a little while, in the Senate. McCain chats with reporters in Phoenix at an airport, though his end destination hasn't been made public. Romney reportedly has a staff and budget meeting in Boston in the morning, though Clinton and Huckabee have not made their schedules public.

-- Pardon Politics Nation if we sleep in a little tomorrow. We're already preparing for Saturday's contests in Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana. Only three states? Wimpy. We're dubbing in "Slacker Saturday."