Though there were no major elections held this year, 2013 still turned out to be one of the more eventful years in recent political memory. Between the government shutdown and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act there was certainly no shortage of major political news. There were plenty of political losers. (Click here to see our list.) But there were also plenty of winners. Take a look at who qualified for our winners’ circle below.
The de Blasio Family
Just five months ago New York City’s current public advocate was trailing in fourth place in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary. What a difference a few months can make. Now de Blasio is gearing up to be sworn in as New York City’s next mayor. De Blasio soared on the strength of his strong stance against the city’s racially inflammatory stop-and-frisk policy and his telegenic multiracial family—including his African-American wife, Chirlane McCray, and his son, Dante, who starred in what is widely considered one of the most effective ads in recent political memory. (Dante’s Afro would become nearly as big a celebrity as his father.) De Blasio’s family has been widely covered beyond New York media, in part because they represent America’s multiracial future.
NJ Gov. Chris Christie
Christie has been touted as a rising star in Republican politics for years. But this is the year he seemed to really hit his stride. His recent weight-loss surgery seemed to signal to political watchers that he is serious about running for higher office in the near future, and the political landscape seems ideal for him. Thanks to this year’s government shutdown, Washington insiders are out with voters. Washington outsiders are in, and the loud and proud New Jersey guv loves touting his outsider status, and that is likely to make him a hit with some voters who have had enough with Washington. Polls seem to confirm this. He is the only potential GOP candidate whom surveys indicate could give Hillary Clinton a run for her money in 2016.
The Women of the Senate
During the government shutdown, few federal elected officials came out looking good. In fact Congress’ approval rating reached an all-time low of 11 percent at the time. (It has since fallen lower—to the single digits.) But there were some who stood out for actually behaving like adults while the majority of their colleagues behaved like children. While GOP senators like Ted Cruz (check him out on our 2013 losers list) opposed compromise at any cost, female GOP senators like Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) fought to find a resolution. Last week, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) played a key role in reaching a budget deal with the GOP-controlled house. As previously covered on The Root, studies have found women to be stronger leaders in areas involving conflict resolution. Maybe if we elected more of them, our political process would have less conflict and more legislation.
Rep. Paul Ryan
Last year Ryan (R-Wis.) was expected to become yet another political trivia question, since that’s usually what happens to most failed vice-presidential candidates. But this year he did something surprising: He emerged as one of Congress’ handiest tacticians. Ryan played a key role in the recent historic budget deal reached with Senate Democrats. In doing so, he established himself as an effective GOP leader, one with conservative bona fides but who also manages to maintain mainstream credibility. It’s possible we haven’t seen the last of him on a national ticket.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice
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
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.
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
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
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.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.