After a whirlwind year of crippling partisanship, bungled policy rollouts, and a government shutdown, most public figures are leaving this year with quite a few more chips to their image than they had in January. Except maybe one.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a growing puzzle for Democrats and continuing headache for his fellow Republicans — emerged as the winner of 2013 on the political stage, according to a National Journal Political Insiders poll.
The lawmaker’s good year is something insiders, Democratic and Republican influencers on the Hill, can agree on. Sixty percent of Democrats said Christie had the best 2013 of political figures, while 71 percent of Republicans said the same. The runners-up were barely any competition, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scoring 24 percent from Democrats and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pulling a mere 11 percent from GOP insiders.
“Nobody else came out of 2013 looking good, let alone better,” says one Republican insider.
Christie began the year with stellar approval ratings, thanks to his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. A January Time cover bearing his no-nonsense visage proclaimed the governor as simply “The boss.” By summertime, Christie had signed a bipartisan state budget with minimal fuss while still striking down eight Democratic bills.
In arguably the most significant year in gay-rights history, Christie outlawed gay-conversion therapy for children in New Jersey in August, and didn’t fight a court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the state in October. He slammed the Obama administration and Congress for “monkeying around” during the government shutdown, distancing himself from the gridlock that burned just about everyone in Washington. He easily scored a landslide win for a second term the following month, and now leads nearly every poll for Republican presidential candidates in 2016.
Christie made it through 2013 largely unscathed. No scandals, no embarrassments or gaffes. He beat Democrats decisively and worked with them at the same time. Sure, conservative groups snubbed him, primarily for his loud criticism of House Speaker John Boehner for post-Sandy aid and of the National Rifle Association for its ad mentioning President Obama’s children. But “don’t be stupid,” because Christie couldn’t care less. “He’s the man to beat in the GOP,” says one Insider.
Christie’s high profile makes him a convenient target for the tea party in 2014, which will likely paint him as too moderate for the Republican primary. Democrats, on the other hand, will point to his ultra-conservative side. Together, these efforts could pull Christie, perhaps even the entire Republican Party, closer to the center — right where voters may want a presidential candidate in 2016.
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President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”
It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.
Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.