Who were the big political winners of 2013? Finding the losers was much easier, as both President Obama and the US Congress as a whole saw a steep declines in favorable and job approval ratings. Ted Cruz just missed out on this list.
Although he had a good year with the base and improved his name recognition, his overall impression on the public was much more mixed or even negative. That said, a handful of politicians definitely had winning years in 2013.
The most obvious choice, Chris Christie is the moderately conservative, frequently aggravating Governor of New Jersey who won re-election with roughly 60% of the vote. He did well across all demographic groups and picked up a number of Democratic endorsements. He has taken his big-league personality (and ego) even more nationwide which included a post-victory late-night circuit tout. Christie is one of the most popular politicians in the nation and regularly ties or leads Hillary Clinton in polls that test a potential 2016 with the former Secretary of State/US Senator/First Lady. In GOP primary polling Christie usually finishes in the top two and, more often than not, at the top of the list. In an age where personality triumphs political positions, Christie did everything right in 2013. Now that 2013 is beyond him, will he actually attempt to help fellow Republicans in 2014?
On the opposite end of the Republican spectrum from Christie, Rand Paul jumped out of his father’s shadow, leapfrogged Marco Rubio as the Tea Party star from the class of 2010, and emerged as a major national figure. The conservative-libertarian struck a chord with the grassroots when he launched a half-day filibuster over Obama’s wish-washy stance on launching drone strikes against Americans. He has been the most vocal critic of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, regularly hitting her for what happened in Benghazi. He also became one of the fiercest privacy advocates (becoming a bigger issue going forward) and Obamacare proponent(an even bigger issue). Unlike Christie, Paul is an issues-over-personality candidate and the potential 2016 clash would be an entertaining one.
Hillary Clinton thought bailing on the White House and State Department earlier in the year would give her time to regroup ahead of a 2016 run. But despite being mostly out of the spotlight for most of the year, Hillary’s popularity saw a dramatic decline. Enter US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren. Sure she barely defeated a Republican in one of the bluest states in 2012. And yes, her overall appeal may be limited. But, unlike Hillary, she was not in hiding in 2013. Quite the opposite, Warren grabbed the liberal banner and ran with it for much of the year, endearing herself to the liberal base. Like Obama in 2008, Warren could pose a problem to the more moderate Clinton if she decided to run. Does the liberal base really like Hillary, or does she just so happen to be a woman they believe can win, thus checking off the next box for the party? Is Warren a solid substitute for Clinton as she checks off the woman box and is much more liberal? So far, she has denied wanting to run and even signed a letter saying she was ready to support Hillary in 2016.
A State Senator from Texas, Wendy Davis became a national hero for liberals and the media when she held a filibuster of a bill that would have restricted abortions to the point of viability and implemented basic safety standards at abortion clinics. Unlike filibusters held by US Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Davis’s stance was enthusiastically cheered by the mainstream media. Glowing profiles followed along with “hard-hitting” interviews where her pink tennis shoes were the featured topic. By the end of 2013, Davis was showered with awards from liberal groups and decided she would run from Governor rather than seek re-election to her seat. The field has mostly been cleared for her as top Democrats have opted to not run in a gubernatorial race that would be hard to win. But Davis doesn’t necessarily think she can win. Even if Davis doesn’t become Governor, she will likely be flooded with well-paying job offers from any number of left-wing or pro-abortion groups eager to take advantage of her new star status.
Republican Senate Hopefuls
For a brief, brief moment in 2010, Democrats thought they would ride the government shutdown to political victory in 2014. But then Obamacare launched. And then the disaster unfolded. Senate Democrats in red states began scrambling to distance themselves from the law, but their constant votes for the law since it originally passed makes it quite difficult to do so. With a year to go, Republicans will have plenty of time to find and prepare solid candidates to tackle races in reddish states including Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas as well as a number of purple states like Colorado and Michigan. On paper, the Senate is there for the GOP’s taking and, if they can ride the wave and avoid epic screw-ups, a takeover is a very strong possibility.