The Five Lessons from Super Tuesday

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Julie Jacobson / AP

Confetti falls on supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton after she spoke to her Super Tuesday watch party.

1. Hillary Clinton's [AZ, AR, CA, MA, NJ, NY, OK, TN] victories in Massachusetts, New Jersey and especially California show that her appeal and her machine are not easily undone by big-name endorsements or the continued strong African-American support of Obama. They are also a reminder that the exit polls (which suggested she might lose the two Northeast states) cannot be trusted, just in case we'd forgotten. In sum, white and Latino women and older people still really like Hillary, and they like to vote.

2. Barack Obama [AK, AL, CO, CT, DE, GA, ID, IL, KS, MO, MN, ND, UT] held his own, making significant inroads among southern white men, especially in Georgia. He trounced Clinton in his home state of Illinois, winning a greater margin than she got in New York. And before the first polls had even closed, his aides were reminding anyone who would listen that they had never expected to carry more states than Clinton. Still, he only got just over half of the Latino vote in Illinois — and lost it by a margin of 2 to 1 in California, suggesting his efforts to sway the demographic have so far failed.

3. John McCain [AZ, CA, CT, DE, IL, MO, NJ, NY, OK] kept his momentum going and cemented his front-runner status, with big wins in New York and California. He even won in Oklahoma, the most conservative state with no large Mormon population. (Bush carried every county in Oklahoma in 2004.) Elsewhere, though, McCain still clearly has a lot of work to do among die-hard conservatives, who remain distrustful of him and divided between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

4. Mitt Romney [AK, CO, MA, MN, MT, ND, UT] failed to impress almost anyone, with wins in Massachusetts, Utah and a few other places he could not have conceivably lost. He vowed to stay in the race, but with Huckabee continuing to pull conservatives out of his column, the businessman may soon have to reevaluate his investment.

5. Mike Huckabee [AL, AR, GA, TN, WV] did far better than expected, which is mostly because he was not expected to do much of anything. West Virginia landed in his corner after McCain supporters, coming in third in the caucus, decided to gang up against Romney. But victories in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, as well as a strong showing in Missouri, proved that his southern appeal is enough to keep him in the race — for the moment. The challenge, and it is significant, will be for Huckabee to turn himself into something more than a regional favorite.

In a way, the primaries worked exactly as they were designed to work. The Republicans, who have held on to a winner-take-all system, may have clarified their race. The Democrats, meanwhile, who have spent the past 20 years using a proportional-representation system, ended up with the same tight race they had the day before. Clinton is ahead slightly, but it's still a race for delegates.

But one thing is a surprise for the Democrats: All the big states that rushed into the void to hold early primaries may turn out to have spoken too soon. Instead of making themselves kingmakers, their divided result has abdicated the power to the states that waited their turn. The next major contests include Maryland and Virginia, and then Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, followed by what could be a slow and grueling crawl to the convention.

— With reporting by James Carney, Ana Marie Cox, David Von Drehle, Michael Duffy, and Karen Tumulty