I’m going to take this from the potential losers’ view.
If McCain loses:
I also disagree that if McCain loses, the GOP won’t see a female on their ticket for years to come. What I think will happen is that the RNCC will insist on more say over the vice-presidential candidate. When even commentators for the National Review are starting to question the VP pick, there’s a problem. I think that if McCain loses, the RNCC will blame Palin for dragging the ticket down, and McCain for selecting her. Never mind that it’s likely that completely left to his own devices McCain probably would have picked Romney or Huckabee, both of whom would have at least done better on CBS News. The RNCC will not let a presidential candidate have a choice like that again.
And, honestly, I think that’s all the GOP will take from the election if McCain loses. They’ll chalk his loss up to the bad economy, high gas prices, and Palin. There won’t nearly be the soul-searching that accompanied previous GOP losses. Long-term, though, if the GOP loses the presidential campaign they’re in a heap of trouble. They’ve all but conceded control of the House, and their Senate campaign chair understands that his goal is to ensure that there are at least 40 Republicans in the next Senate. Before the 2006 election the Dems had 45 Senators; now they have an outside chance at 58. The GOP has to put all its chips on the presidential race–losing it is going to hurt.
In a nutshell the GOP is going to have to figure out how to regain its majority base. The Dems now have a wide lead in party registrations, and new registered voters favor them by a wide margin. The GOP hoped that regional demographic changes would help them (their traditional power bases in the Mountains, Plains, and the South are gaining population while the mainly Democratic Northeast is losing population), but it hasn’t worked that way, mainly because migrants are taking their politics with them and tilting some Western states blue. Furthermore, the single-party voters the GOP have counted on in previous elections don’t seem to be making an impact in a campaign where the economy is looming so large.
If McCain loses this year, the 2012 GOP candidate is going to have to present a substantially different platform to attract former Obama voters. That, or the GOP could hope for economic situations simliar to this year’s.
If Obama loses:
It seems certain to me that if Obama loses on Election Tuesday, Hillary’s campaign is going to start Wednesday. I think Hillary will immediately position herself as an unofficial Leader of the Opposition: every real or imagined misstep by McCain/Palin will be attacked, every policy questioned. That doesn’t mean Hillary would be a dead cert for 2012. We’ve already seen that she’s vulnerable to overconfidence. Four years of being the mouthpiece of opposition could be a bad thing…but it also could help Hillary define her position. Headstrong as Hillary is, I think even she could learn from her mistakes this time, especially on campaign infrastructure. The odds would favor a McCain/Clinton race in 2012.
I think if Obama loses, he stays in the Senate and starts to rebuild his political career. I can even see him making another presidential run some years down the road. He’ll quietly build foreign policy credentials in his safe Illinois seat.
The biggest consequence for the Dems if Obama loses I think will be psychological. An outside observer (if one could exist) would look at the last four presidential elections–two near-landslides for the Dems followed by two extremely close wins for the GOP–and wonder why the Dems have been saddled with the “loser” tag. I think some of it is a bit of paranoia (“We would have won but Diebold/the MSM/wedge issues stole it from us”) and a bit is historical (only two Dem presidents since Kennedy). I think another loss would cause the DCCC to make policy changes they don’t need to make. There’s a lot of fear on the Dem side and the consequence of fear is to make bad decisions.
So…since three years ago I predicted McCain to be the GOP candidate and Obama to be the Dem candidate (OK, the VP candidate, but close): here’s a cut-out-and-keep prediction sheet for 2012.
If GOP wins: McCain/Palin vs. Clinton/Richardson
In Dem wins: Obama/Biden vs. Romney/Sanford