- Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Like this needs explaining?
- Howard Dean: He crashed and burned as a presidential candidate four years ago, but a once in a lifetime candidate and political dynamic vindicated his 50 state strategy as the Democrats explanded their electoral map for the first time in decades.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: The Mormons got a lot of press this year, good and bad, because of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. They were also the driving force in successfully funding and generating support for Proposition 8 in California.
- David Axelrod and David Plouffe: Obama’s two Davids masterminded one of the greatest political campaigns in history, one which will be studied and replicated for decades in the United States and around the world.
- The polls: Most campaign polls were right in assessing the mood of the local and national electorate, and correctly foresaw an Obama victory of historic proportions.
- Tina Fey: Energized her career with a dead accurate and brutal impression of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.
- Katie Couric: May have resurrected her career bona fides with her gentle televised mauling of Sarah Palin. That interview will be studied in journalism schools for years to show how brutally effective and newsworthy a simple follow-up question can be.
- John McCain: There can be only one winner in a presidential election, and McCain ran as best as he could in one of the harshest political environments for Republicans since 1974.
- Sarah Palin: Five words – Not ready for prime time. She energized the Republican base at the expense of everyone else, many of whom were scared at the idea of an unexperienced and unqualified candidate being one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency. She might have been a rising star in the party before this cycle, but given the fact that she was a net negative for the ticket this time around, any chances of her being on the national ticket in 2012 are slim.
- Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, Mark Salter, Terry Nelson and John Weaver: The McCain brain trust throughout the campaign was fraught with mixed messages and competing egos. Unlike Obama’s consistent message of change, the McCain campaign never had one, and bounced from idea to idea in hopes of turning their electoral fortunes around. They also thought it would be a good idea running on change v. experience based on their candidate’s compelling life story, ignoring the fact that Hillary Clinton tried making the same argument and failed.
- Mark Penn: He severely miscalculated the national mood of the electorate to the point where he may be guilty of political malpractice. He was also a source of constant friction within the Clinton campaign, who did not see the warning signs and did not want to get rid of him. In the end, his lobbying deal for Colombia was too much embarrassment for the campaign to handle and he got demoted.
- Joe Lieberman: He bucked his own party and endorsed the Republican ticket. He’s about to find out the hard way that elections have consequences.
- George W. Bush: He was a radioactive albatross tied to John McCain and nearly every Republican incumbent around the country this year. He didn’t do much campaigning, but like Keyser Soze in the Usual Suspects, he was the large unseen presence lurking throughout the race.
- Tim Mahoney: He wins election because his opponent was involved in a sex scandal, only to go down in defeat himself two years later because of a sex scandal.
- Karl Rove and Tom DeLay: Four years after President Bush’s re-election mandate, the dream of a permanent Republican majority is dead.
John Ensign: After the fiasco of 2006, Ensign didn’t do a much better job in helping his party stave off losses in the Senate. This time, it was arguably more consequential, because the Democrats are now inching closer to a 60-seat supermajority when their party controls the White House.