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Races to Watch in 2013 Races to Watch in 2013

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On The Trail

Races to Watch in 2013

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In this July 6, 2012 photograph, GreenTech Automotive chairman and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, left, and former President Bill Clinton, confer prior to the unveiling of GreenTech Automotive's new electric MyCar at their manufacturing facility in Horn Lake, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In the era of constant campaigning, politics never stops. While the White House moves on President Obama's second-term agenda and Washington debates the next fiscal cliff, immigration reform and potentially even gun control measures, the strategists and party officials who plot to elect them are already hard at work developing their approach to elections this year -- and laying the foundations for 2014.

From key governor's races to special elections to critical preparations for next year already underway, there's no rest for anyone weary of politics after last year's elections.

 

Virginia Governor's Race: Exit polls show the Old Dominion is fading and a new dominion ascending. The influx of government-dependent jobs in the Washington suburbs and diverse populations both north and around Richmond has put Virginia solidly in the swing column. And Democrats are on an undeniable winning streak: The Old Dominion has elected exactly one Republican -- incumbent Gov. Bob McDonnell -- to one of the state's top three jobs since 2003.

History argues that Republicans should be in strong position to keep the seat in their hands. In every election since John Dalton won in 1977, the party that doesn't hold the White House has won the governorship. But this year the streak is in danger: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli stands far to the right of center, leaving even some in his own party openly questioning whether he can compete for the seat. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who dropped out of the race after acknowledging he couldn't beat Cuccinelli at a state party convention, is still threatening to run as an independent, further jeopardizing Cuccinelli's chances.

But Democrats aren't making it easy on themselves. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, one of the best fundraisers in his party, is Cuccinelli's likely opponent, and his reputation as a political insider isn't ideal at a time when politicians come in for special scorn. Still, McAuliffe is the favorite, if the new dominion has risen high enough.

 

An intriguing side-note: McAuliffe, a close ally of the Clinton family, has hired former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director Robby Mook to run his campaign. Mook ran three states for Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2008 -- Nevada, Ohio and Indiana, all of which she won. If Mook proves himself again, he'll be on the short list for a top job, perhaps even as Clinton's campaign manager, if she runs in 2016.

New Jersey Governor's Race: Not many Republicans can claim they had a politically good year in 2012, but Chris Christie sure can. Christie got plenty of buzz as the potential vice presidential nominee who was never really on a short list, his handling of Hurricane Sandy was widely praised, and he lost his biggest rival when Newark Mayor Cory Booker said last month he would instead run for Senate.

With Booker out, Christie will likely face one of a handful of Trenton insiders in a state in which the legislature remains hugely unpopular. State Sen. Barbara Buono was the first Democrat to jump in; she raised an impressive $250,000 in her first month in the race, she said this week. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has met with the Democratic Governors Association about running. And state Sen. Dick Codey is still considering a bid, fueled by a long-running feud with Sweeney. Rep. Bill Pascrell doesn't want to be left out of the conversation, either. None would pose the challenge to Christie that Booker would have.

New Jersey has a streak similar to Virginia's: The party that doesn't hold the White House has won the last six statewide elections, since Democrat Jim Florio in 1989. Christie is in good position to keep the streak alive.

 

Kentucky State House: When Republicans captured both chambers of the Arkansas House and Senate, they solidified control of every state legislature in the old Confederacy. Only a few bastions of Democratic control in non-Confederate Southern states remain. Kentucky's state House is one of those redoubts.

Republicans won the Kentucky State Senate after the 1999 elections. In 2012, Rep.-elect Andy Barr scored one of the few Republican victories by knocking off incumbent Democrat Ben Chandler in a Lexington-area seat. And though Democrats hold every statewide constitutional office, Republicans are confident they can pick up the ten seats required to win control of the 100-member legislature.

Observers of Kentucky politics think there's a major shift afoot. In the 1920s, the coal wars in West Virginia pitted mine workers against corporations, a battle that allied workers with the Democratic Party for nearly a century. The industry still plays a big role in the region, and Chandler grew nervous about what Republicans termed the Obama administration's War on Coal. If Republicans convert life-long Democratic voters to their cause this year, a shift back toward the GOP could be another century-long proposition.

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