The Biggest Political Winners and Losers of 2013

Chris Christie, Bill de Blasio, and an Arkansas House member head the list of political winners in 2013.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attends his election night event after winning a second term at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on November 05, 2013 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Incumbent Governor Chris Christie defeated his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by a commanding margin. 
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Josh Kraushaar
Dec. 30, 2013, midnight

For a year after a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, 2013 proved to be filled with sig­ni­fic­ant polit­ic­al de­vel­op­ments — from Pres­id­ent Obama’s second-term struggles over his health care law, messy Re­pub­lic­an di­vi­sions between the es­tab­lish­ment and the grass­roots, and, on a light­er note, the antics of a col­or­ful New York City may­or­al race and a South Car­o­lina con­gres­sion­al elec­tion pit­ting Mark San­ford against Steph­en Col­bert’s sis­ter.

Some politi­cians, such as New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, saw their stock rise. Oth­ers, like red-state Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors, began 2014 in­creas­ingly con­cerned about their polit­ic­al fu­tures. Here’s our Na­tion­al Journ­al list of the biggest polit­ic­al win­ners and losers of the year.


New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie. Re­sound­ingly win­ning a second term in a Demo­crat­ic state, Christie won a ma­jor­ity of His­pan­ic voters and a not­able minor­ity of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, too. He has emerged as the early es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ite for Re­pub­lic­ans in 2016, over­com­ing some es­tab­lish­ment angst that he’s too hot-tempered and “Jer­sey” for his ap­peal to trans­late na­tion­ally. Already, he’s lead­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton in some (very) early na­tion­al polls.

Arkan­sas Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ate Tom Cot­ton. At a time when Re­pub­lic­ans are fight­ing each oth­er reg­u­larly, Cot­ton is one of the few can­did­ates to win en­thu­si­ast­ic sup­port from both the party es­tab­lish­ment and out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups. Even be­fore the prob­lems with the health care web­site, polls already showed him run­ning neck and neck against Demo­crat Mark Pry­or, the most vul­ner­able sen­at­or up for reelec­tion in 2014.

New York City May­or-elect Bill de Bla­sio. Even for a Demo­crat run­ning in the lib­er­al con­fines of New York City, de Bla­sio’s re­sound­ing 49-point vic­tory over Re­pub­lic­an Joe Lhota was im­press­ive. He’ll be the first Demo­crat in­aug­ur­ated as may­or of New York City since Dav­id Dinkins in 1989. And his cam­paign mes­sage ar­guing that the city needs to tackle in­come in­equal­ity not only res­on­ated with New York­ers but also was echoed by Pres­id­ent Obama’s second-term eco­nom­ic mes­sage.

Lob­by­ists-turned-can­did­ates. Terry McAul­iffe sur­prised many polit­ic­al ob­serv­ers in win­ning the Vir­gin­ia gov­ernor­ship des­pite car­ry­ing loads of bag­gage about his polit­ic­al and busi­ness past. His suc­cess per­haps caught the eye of former Re­pub­lic­an Party Chair­man Ed Gillespie, an­oth­er long­time Wash­ing­ton mover and shaker, who is now con­sid­er­ing a Sen­ate cam­paign against Mark Warner in Vir­gin­ia. Mean­while, down in Flor­ida, lob­by­ist Dav­id Jolly is the early Re­pub­lic­an fa­vor­ite to win the nom­in­a­tion for the con­gres­sion­al spe­cial elec­tion to suc­ceed his former boss, the late Rep. Bill Young.

Fam­ily feuds. The year was filled with messy polit­ic­al fights with­in fam­il­ies. Mark San­ford feuded with his ex-wife, Jenny San­ford, as he moun­ted a comeback con­gres­sion­al cam­paign in South Car­o­lina. Liz Cheney felt the heat from her sis­ter, Mary, after com­ing out against gay mar­riage in her Sen­ate cam­paign in Wyom­ing. And after Bill Young died in Oc­to­ber, his wid­ow, Beverly, and son Bill battled over who his suc­cessor should be, tak­ing op­pos­ite sides in a messy fam­ily fight. When a re­port­er asked about the di­vide, Beverly Young re­spon­ded curtly: “I have no re­la­tion­ship [with my son.]”

Sen­ate primary chal­lengers. More than half of the 12 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors up for reelec­tion in 2014 are fa­cing primary chal­lengers on their right flank. While few of the op­pon­ents pose ser­i­ous threats to the in­cum­bents, the large num­ber il­lus­trates how frus­trated the con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots is to­ward the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s lead­er­ship class in Wash­ing­ton.


Pres­id­ent Obama. The pres­id­ent starts the new year with the low­est ap­prov­al rat­ings of his pres­id­ency and with his ad­min­is­tra­tion fa­cing deep polit­ic­al chal­lenges over its health care law. His push for gun con­trol and im­mig­ra­tion re­form went nowhere, and he’s stuck try­ing to pro­tect the vi­ab­il­ity of his sig­na­ture do­mest­ic le­gis­la­tion. Right now, he’s look­ing a lot more like George W. Bush at this point in his second term than Bill Clin­ton.

Ken Cuc­cinelli. There’s (usu­ally) no cry­ing in polit­ics, but Cuc­cinelli didn’t get the mes­sage, as shown at his tear­ful, com­bat­ive con­ces­sion speech in the Vir­gin­ia gov­ernor’s race. Few politi­cians un­der­achieved as greatly as the out­go­ing Vir­gin­ia at­tor­ney gen­er­al. He was run­ning against a flawed chal­lenger, McAul­iffe, in an off-year elec­tion at a time when Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ings were nose­diving. Our Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port col­league Dav­id Wasser­man crunched the res­ults and found that Cuc­cinelli badly un­der­per­formed even Mitt Rom­ney in tra­di­tion­ally Re­pub­lic­an, wealthy sub­urb­an en­claves — by double di­gits in some cases. That’s a clear re­cipe for dis­aster.

An­thony Wein­er. For a politi­cian who already was scan­dal­ized over his R-rated tweets, Wein­er had a real chal­lenge to fall any fur­ther. But his clown show of a New York City may­or­al cam­paign fore­closed any op­por­tun­ity for a comeback in pub­lic ser­vice and tar­nished the repu­ta­tion of his Hil­lary-ad­vising wife, too. And Wein­er hasn’t even latched onto a TV or ra­dio deal since his ig­no­mini­ous fifth-place fin­ish.

Christine Quinn. Quinn’s re­sound­ing de­feat was even more dis­ap­point­ing than Wein­er’s fall, giv­en that she was the early fa­vor­ite to suc­ceed New York City May­or Mi­chael Bloomberg. A com­pel­ling New York Times doc­u­ment­ary cap­tured Quinn’s free fall in pain­ful real time, il­lus­trat­ing how far her may­or­al cam­paign fell short of ex­pect­a­tions.

Marco Ru­bio. Not many 2016 pres­id­en­tial con­tenders have seen their stock drop more than Ru­bio has this year. He man­aged to ali­en­ate the con­ser­vat­ive base with his high-pro­file im­mig­ra­tion-re­form ad­vocacy, and then he over­cor­rec­ted by join­ing Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in back­ing a gov­ern­ment show­down. He broke with Rep. Paul Ry­an over the re­cent budget com­prom­ise that re­stores some fund­ing for de­fense spend­ing, even though he ori­gin­ally cri­ti­cized the se­quester cuts when they were im­ple­men­ted. Ru­bio is a top polit­ic­al tal­ent, and it’s easy to see him re­bound­ing. But it’s also in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to identi­fy his niche with­in a crowded field of pres­id­en­tial hope­fuls.

Red-state Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors. With Pres­id­ent Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing at all-time lows and his health care law un­der siege, the four red-state Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors up in 2014 — Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan, Mark Be­gich, and Mark Pry­or — are in ser­i­ous trouble. Demo­crats prob­ably will need to hold at least two of their seats to main­tain a Sen­ate ma­jor­ity, but the odds of that aren’t look­ing great.

Pennsylvania GOP Gov. Tom Corbett. Corbett star­ted the year fa­cing a tough reelec­tion. He ended 2013 as the most en­dangered gov­ernor in Amer­ica. His ap­prov­al rat­ings are re­mark­ably poor. An Oc­to­ber Frank­lin and Mar­shall poll showed that only 20 per­cent of Pennsylvania voters be­lieve he de­serves reelec­tion.


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