Believe It or Not, There Were Some Political Winners in 2013

From the de Blasio family—and Dante’s Afro—to Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, these politicos managed to rise above the fray.

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White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice

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Rice became one of the Obama administration’s most high-profile political casualties when Republican opposition torpedoed her long-rumored nomination for secretary of state before it even became official. But Rice seems to have gotten the last laugh. She was nominated as national security adviser, an incredibly important role that wields vast policy influence, but does not require confirmation from those senators who made it clear they would do everything in their power to block her ascent.

Sen. Cory Booker

Sen. Cory Booker, Nov. 6, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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It has long been speculated that Booker always had much bigger plans than remaining mayor of Newark, N.J. Some thought he had his eye on the New Jersey governor’s mansion currently occupied by Chris Christie. Others presumed he had greater ambitions–-possibly the White House. Well, this year Booker took the next step in his career journey by being elected to the United States Senate. He joins an elite club by becoming only the ninth African American to serve in the Senate (only the fourth elected by popular vote), which certainly qualifies him for this year’s winners list.

Mel Watt

Rep. Mel Watt after President Barack Obama nominated him to be the next director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency during a personnel announcement at the White House, May 1, 2013, Washington, D.C. 

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Watt, a longtime congressman representing North Carolina, was another Obama nominee who seemed destined to never reach the finish line. But something extraordinary happened. The president and his supporters, most notably Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, decided to get tough. Thanks to a controversial Senate rule change requiring the majority party to simply secure a majority vote—not the long-required 60 votes—Watt was finally confirmed as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Watt’s confirmation marked another noteworthy African-American addition to the Obama administration, which had previously faced criticism for a lack of diversity in appointments. But it also marked a major political win for the president, Democrats and Watt.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid speaks to members of the media after the weekly Senate Democratic Policy Committee luncheon, Dec. 17, 2013, Washington, D.C.

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It’s been a rough year for the Senate majority leader, with the government shutdown and opposition among the Ted Cruz crew making Washington even more deadlocked than usual. But despite his laid-back, grandfatherly appearance, Reid reminded everyone how he earned a reputation as a tough boxer in his youth, delivering a surprising procedural knockout to Republicans. The rule change he maneuvered that led to the confirmation of Watt and others by undoing years of Senate tradition that required 60 votes will have far-reaching implications that could come back to haunt Democrats. But at the moment, the move is paying off for Reid and the Obama administration. It also solidifies Reid’s reputation as one of the toughest tacticians Washington has ever seen.

Sen. Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul at the Detroit Economic Club, Dec. 6, 2013, Detroit

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Harry Reid and conservative firebrand Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have forged an unlikely friendship that has become a source of media fascination. The burgeoning relationship further solidifies Paul’s place on this year’s winners list. Thanks to his Tea Party counterpart Ted Cruz’s showboating during the government shutdown, Paul has been able to emerge as the Tea Party’s voice of reason in the Senate. (Yes, I’m serious.) Rand is therefore far better positioned for a presidential run than Cruz, who has alienated far more of his Republican colleagues. Additionally, Paul has attempted to improve his standing among black audiences, who have been suspicious of the Kentucky senator thanks to his questionable remarks about the Civil Rights Act. But by speaking at Howard University and discussing black unemployment in Detroit, Paul has proven he is serious about being seen as a national candidate, not merely a flash in the pan. 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.