Think of this as Volume 15, Number 41 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
You didn't win Washington in 2008. You only got into the conversation.
The American system, as designed by James Madison, isn't like governing systems elsewhere. In a parliamentary system, winning the election means you get to set policy, to rule. Even if you're in a coalition, like England's Conservatives, you control the levers of power – executive, legislative, even judicial. The people can judge your movement by what you do with power from one election to the next. The nation can turn on a dime.