2004 Political Winners and Losers

ByABC News
December 22, 2004, 5:13 PM

-- Every election year, the game of politics defies the old maxim: "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." What matters in politics is the power and glory of winning -- the satisfaction of getting out the vote and out-maneuvering, out-spinning, out-messaging, and out-weaseling the competition.

While there were many political winners and losers in 2004, only the cream of the crop gets the recognition. Because President Bush and Sen. John Kerry were the likeliest choices, they were not included. Instead, the not-as-obvious political players comprise this year's list of winners and losers.

Karl Rove
The president's chief political strategist, Karl Rove (aka Bush's Brain) is the biggest winner of 2004. He had been plotting the president's re-election since the day they won in 2000. He mastered every in and out of the presidential campaign -- the media, the Republican base, the exurbs, the values debate, the get-out-the-vote initiative, the message, the discipline, the local coverage, national security, the South, evangelical Christians and every other area. As a political strategist, this election was his to lose, and he won it with flying colors.

Sen.-elect Barack Obama

Another clear winner is the dashing Barack Obama, Illinois' senator-elect. Obama will be the third black American since Reconstruction to become a U.S. senator, and will be the Senate's only black member when he takes office in January. He has been called the fiery rising star of the Democratic Party, and anyone who saw his energetic keynote address at the Democratic National Convention last summer would understand why. He is greeted as a rock star when he enters a room, and leaves legions of fans in his wake. He appeared on the annual year-end cover of Newsweek as the featured topic of "Who's Next," which looks at people who will be making news in the months and years ahead. And he will.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

If Obama is the Democratic rock star, then the Governator definitely plays that role for the Republicans. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a big year on the national stage, just a year after he became California's top executive. His speech at the Republican National Convention wowed delegates and gave him an opportunity to issue his signature line: "And to those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say, don't be economic girlie men!" While there are rumblings that the novice politician may have presidential aspirations, it is unlikely they will come true, since the Constitution bars foreign-born citizens from the White House. There is no doubt, however, he is a breath of fresh air (and dissenting air at times), and a new powerhouse in the Republican Party.

Sen. George Allen
Republicans aren't just feeling emboldened because of President Bush's 3.5 million-vote margin of victory. The GOP is also cheering the party's inching its Republican majority in the Senate ever closer to that magical filibuster-proof number of 60. And Virginia's Sen. George Allen, who headed up the Republican Senate campaign committee in 2004, is receiving most of the praise. He led Senate Republicans to an impressive sweep of five open seats being vacated by Democrats in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana, cementing the GOP's grip in the South and increasing their Senate majority to a solid 55 seats. Allen also focused a lot of money and attention on South Dakota for the real and psychological victory in ousting Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle
On Election Day 2004, Daschle became the first Senate party leader in a half-century to lose a re-election bid. South Dakota voters threw their support to challenger John Thune. Daschle had been a U.S. senator for 26 years and the leader of Senate Democrats since December 1994. The last time a Senate leader was unseated was in 1952, when Majority Leader Ernest McFarland of Arizona lost his seat to Barry Goldwater.