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What We Learned: At A Crossroads What We Learned: At A Crossroads

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What We Learned: At A Crossroads

-- Don't look now, but by winning over a surprisingly large number of Democrats to support his budget reforms and cuts, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has driven a stake in the middle of the state Democratic coalition - and greatly improved his re-election chances. Both Democratic state legislative leaders, who run the show in Trenton, backed his tough measures - a move unthinkable just months ago. Now there's a glaring split between the party bosses and state Democratic leaders and labor, along with many grassroots activists. Many labor leaders are as enraged with Democrats now as they are with Christie. That will make for an intriguing nomination process as Democrats look to challenge him in 2013. But the internal warfare that's breaking out among New Jersey Democrats only bodes well for Christie's long-term political future. -- As former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman formally began his presidential campaign this week, he made it pretty clear he's not going to take the familiar route of actively courting the conservative base. His pledge not to sign any pledges automatically shuts him out from landing endorsements from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist. Add to that his refusal to actively participate in the Iowa caucus and Huntsman may leave observers wondering whether he's running a general election campaign during primary season. -- Many GOP senators are enduring constant criticism from their right flanks, and in some cases, actual primary challengers. But the Far Left, for the most part, seems to be leaving incumbent Democratic senators alone. Still, it'll be interesting to see how many open Democratic Senate primaries are driven by serious ideological disagreements. Connecticut is the only state that qualifies so far (if former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz has her way), but it remains to be seen which issues will be raised during the Senate primaries in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New Mexico... and perhaps even Wisconsin? -- While the economy likely will be the dominant issue of the campaign, the war in Afghanistan could emerge as a significant factor in Florida's Senate race. Following Pres. Obama's announcement of plans for troop withdrawals, two leading Republican candidates - former Sen. George LeMieux and former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner -- released harshly-worded statements criticizing the president's decision to diminish the U.S.'s presence in the country. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., on the other hand, praised Obama's plan. With Florida poised to once again serve a key battleground in the race for the White House -- and the possibility that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has emerged as a leading voice for staying the course in Afghanistan potentially on the GOP ticket -- foreign policy could take on a heightened role in the Sunshine State compared to other competitive Senate races. -- Republicans are still struggling to find a Michigan Senate candidate to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Though Michigan Republicans say she's vulnerable, many high profile Republicans have turned down the chance to run, and it's looking less likely she'll face a strong challenge. This week Detroit radio host Frank Beckmann added his name to those passing on the race, and the mystery former Detroit Red Wings players did as well. -- Former Nevada GOP chair Mark Amodei's first ad in the special election in Nevada's 2nd congressional district, "Fight the Debt Limit Extension," has certainly drawn attention to his campaign and been incendiary: criticized for its characterization of a Chinese newscast, it has been called outright "offensive" and "fear-mongering" by Asian-American groups. But aside from the racial themes, the ad raises an interesting question in advance of the 2012 cycle: Can Republican candidates rally voters around the debt ceiling issue, much as Democrats successfully used the Medicare issue in Rep. Paul Ryan's, R-Wis., budget plan to elect Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., in the NY-26 special election? The answer is likely no. Sen. Jim DeMint's, R-SC, threats of consequences for yea votes on the debt ceiling aside, the party is divided. House Speaker John Boehner has said that leaving the limit where it is could have catastrophic consequences. Regardless of which way the votes go, with the vote fast approaching, the issue seems unlikely to attract the kind of intensity that Medicare did in NY.

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