Monday, December 27, 2010

2010's winners and losers

They say that 12 months is a lifetime in politics. And it's true that political fortunes can certainly rise and fall in a year. That means each year has its share of political winners and losers.

2010 Winners

The Tea Party - In 2010 this group went from being considered on the fringe to being credited with Republicans' big gains in this year's Congressional elections. There's no doubt the Tea Party stirred interest in the mid-terms on the Republican side (polls show most Tea Party activists were and are Republicans). However, most insurgents the Tea Party backed in primary wins over Republican insiders - Joe Miller in Alaska, Sharon Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Deleware, for example, lost in the general election. Still, the Tea Party elected enough of their favorites to influence the GOP in Congress.

Republicans - They took back the House of Representatives, closed the Democratic margin in the Senate and captured a majority of the nation's governors' mansions. That's despite polling that shows the county still doesn't trust them or their approach to the issues. November's vote wasn't so much "Yes" on the Republican agenda as "No" on the current Democratic Congress. The GOP gain was also fueled by Tea Party activism and the party is now challenged to find a way to keep those activists enthused and engaged, without letting them actually choose the party's nominees, a recipe for electoral disaster.

Ken Cuccinelli - Virginia's activist attorney general became the darling of the national Tea Party by taking on President Obama's health care reform program in the courts and winning, at least temporarily. Although there's a good chance the Supreme Court will eventually rule against him, Cuccinelli gained national exposure in conservative circles.

Barack Obama -  It might seems strange to say this less than two months after his party was shellacked at the polls, but Obama personally had a pretty good year. While some of what he pushed through the Congress, stimulus funding and health care reform in particular, may seem unpopular now, those measures give  him a chance at being re-elected. So does the additional stimulus he was able to get in the budget deal with Republicans that temporarily extended the Bush tax cuts. He's also been winding down the war in Iraq in good fashion, as promised. If the economy picks up Obama, who looked like the only adult in the room as Democrats and Republicans in Congress argued, will benefit.

Virginia Republicans - Regained the three House of Representatives seats they lost in 2008 and picked up another by knocking out long-time incumbent Rep. Rick Boucher in the 9th district in Southwest Virginia to take an 8-3 lead in the House delegation. That had to build confidence for 2012 and what could be a bloody rematch between Jim Webb and George Allen for the seat Webb won in 2006.

2010 Losers

Democrats - Took it on the chin in this fall's legislative elections. While the measures they passed may help Obama win re-election in 2012, that's probably cold comfort to the Dems who lost their House and Senate seats this year.

Bob McDonnell - What a difference a year makes. Coming into 2010, McDonnell had won a huge landslide victory for governor and was being talked about in some circles as a potential Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012. After a year in office, he's been outshined nationally by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and overshadowed in his own state by his activist attorney general.
Meanwhile, McDonnell's own plans haven't fared so well. His scheme to privatize the state's ABC stores to raise money for highways ran into trouble with his own party, and a hypothetical program to use royalties for offshore oil and gas drilling -- which would not exist under current law --  for highway funding ran afoul of the Obama Administration's hold on such leases following the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. McDonnell balanced the budget by withholding a payment to the Virginia Retirement System and recently flip-flopped on a campaign pledge not to make state employees pay their own share of the cost of their retirement.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling -- Every time Cuccinelli dominates another news cycle, Bolling looks more and more like a speed bump in the A.G.'s road to the 2013 GOP nomination for governor.

Williamsburg's Status Quo -- When city voters put college student Scott Foster and hotelier Doug Pons on City Council in May, they rejected the cozy consensus that dominated Council during former Mayor Jeanne Zeidler's tenure. The Historic Triangle's powers-that-be took another hit in November when the Williamsburg Hotel-Motel Association's Tourist Information Center was certified by the state, over the objections of Colonial Williamsburg, the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance and Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd).

George Allen -- While the former Senator has openly hinted he plans to take on Jim Webb again in 2012, the Tea Party insurgency has led some in the state GOP to see him as yesterday's news. At least four potential candidates nominally to the right of Allen have expressed interest in the nomination, including Del. Bob Marshall, who nearly stole  the opportunity to be steamrolled by Sen. Mark Warner away from former Gov. Jim Gilmore in 2008.

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