2013 Year in Review

The year is thankfully almost over, so it’s time to look back on the highlights and lowlifes of 2013:

The year started out looking hopeful for President Obama. Coming off his reelection victory and his success in the Fiscal Cliff negotiations, it seemed like Congress was poised to pass gun control legislation and comprehensive immigration reform before the end of the year. But here we are in December and it looks like gun control is DOA and immigration reform is as distant as ever.

In February, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world when he became the first pope in centuries to resign from the papacy. His successor, Pope Francis, has put a new face on the Catholicism and turned the Church towards a more pastoral mindset. The humble pontiff dresses plainly and not only speaks of helping the poor and the weak, but he practices what he preaches as well. Named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Francis has shaken up the Vatican and looks to be a dynamic force for change in the years to come.

The first major terrorist attack in the US since 9/11 hit Boston in mid-April, when two Chechen brothers bombed the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and more than a hundred more were injured in the two blasts, which set off a manhunt which resulted in the death of one suspect and the televised capture of the nineteen-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The surviving brother’s good looks and youthful appearance has attracted a small legion of “fans” and even put him on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, a first for a bombing suspect.

June saw the leaking of classified NSA documents by Edward Snowden which showed the full extent of the agency’s data collection program, which we learned targets nearly all Americans. This sparked a national debate on the balance between security and liberty while Snowden fled from the US to Hong Kong before finally ending up in Moscow, where the Russians are refusing to extradite him.

The George Zimmerman murder trial, which captivated the nation and brought up uncomfortable questions about race in America, came to a dramatic conclusion in July when Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. Like the OJ Simpson trial more than 15 years earlier, this case was a painful reminder that the wounds of centuries of racial discrimination still remain even 50 years after the demise of Jim Crow.

On August 21st, the Syrian regime conducted the largest chemical weapons attack in 25 years when it gassed more than a thousand people in the capital of Damascus. The Syrian Civil War has been raging for almost three years and during that time more than 100,000 people have been killed in the fighting. With this new attack, the “red line” imposed by President Obama had been cross and the US was brought to the brink of launching retaliatory strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. However, a last minute deal brokered by the Russians allowed the Syrian regime to voluntarily destroy its remaining chemical weapon stockpiles under international supervision, thus staving off a military intervention by the United States.

Of course, October wasn’t kind to the congressional GOP either. The same day as the Obamacare website’s ignominious start, the failure of Republicans and Democrats to come to a budget deal resulted in a government shutdown that lasted more than two weeks. Conservatives were adamantly opposed to reopening the government unless Obamacare was repealed or at least the individual mandate was delayed. However, the Democrats and the Obama Administration did not budge and eventually the GOP was forced to reopen the government on intense public pressure. During the shutdown the GOP saw its poll numbers decline significantly to the point where the Republican majority in the House of Representatives was in jeopardy. Of course, that lasted a few weeks until….

The role out of Healthcare.gov on October 1st was nothing short of a complete disaster for the Obama administration, with millions of visitors to the website unable to access the online health insurance marketplaces. These issues plagued the site for months and it wasn’t until December that most of the kinks were worked out. As a result the goal of 3 million enrollments by the end of the year was missed, with current estimates showing that only 1.1 million people had bought health insurance through Healthcare.gov. The healthcare troubles took a deep toll on President Obama’s approval ratings and the month of November saw the GOP reverse the losses from the government shutdown and then some.

With both parties bruised after the past few months, December saw the rare occurrence of compromise with the adoption of a two-year budget agreement that would stave off the threat of another shutdown until at least 2015. With this agreement it will be the first December in recent memory without a budget crisis, much to the chagrin of the DC media.

2013 was a banner year for gay rights, with the number of states permitting same-sex marriage doubling from 9 to 18. The Supreme Court struck down DOMA and paved the way for gay couples to receive federal marriage benefits. Public support for marriage equality continued its rise in 2013 and now more than 55% of the country support the right of same-sex couple to wed.

 In 2013 lines were blurred, Pharrell got lucky (twice), glutes were twerked, and Miley Cyrus drove a wrecking ball through her good-girl Disney image. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford showed the world that crack isn’t always whack and even our mild-mannered neighbors to the north know how to party hard. Anthony Weiner almost became the mayor of New York City, only to be thwarted by his inability to (once again) keep it in his pants. Carlos Danger wasn’t the hero New York needed, but the one it deserved.

So what’s on the horizon for 2014? It’s going to be a big year with the Olympics in February, World Cup in June, a Scottish vote on independence in September, the US midterms elections in November, and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in December.

So here’s to 2013 and a very happy New Year to all!

2014 Election Preview: Texas

The deadline the for candidates to run in the March primary came and went earlier this month, setting the stage for the March primaries. This is the landscape for 2014 in the Lone Star State:

Governor:

Incumbent Governor Rick Perry (R), who has been in office since George W. Bush resigned after winning the 2000 presidential election, will not run for another term. The GOP front-runner by a wide-margin is Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who faces very little in the way of organized opposition. That said, former Univision personality Miriam Martinez could be an outlet for anti-establishment forces to coalesce around if she knows what she’s doing. And that’s a big if. As for the Democrats, the only serious candidate is State Senator Wendy Davis, most famous for her talking filibuster against a recent Texas anti-abortion bill. While she may be a darling of progressives nationwide, pro-choice doesn’t really sell that well in Texas. In the end, this race is Likely Republican.

Senator: 

Right up until the filing deadline, it seemed that Senator John Cornyn (R) would avoid a challenge from conservative activists that so many of his colleagues will have to face in 2014. But then Rep. Steve Stockman (R) made a last minute filing to run against Cornyn in the March primary, setting the stage for… well, not much. Stockman isn’t exactly the most credible candidate and polls show that Cornyn is in good shape for the GOP nomination. That could change, but right now its hard to see anyone other than John Cornyn as the Senator from Texas come January 2015. Regardless of who wins the primary, this seat is Safe Republican.

House:

TX-23: Due to an impressive of amount of gerrymandering, the state with the second most congressional districts has only one competitive race this cycle. The 23rd is one of the largest in the country and stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. In 2012, Democrat Pete Gallego defeated freshman Rep. Quico Canseco (R) in this majority Latino district. Two years later, Canseco is running to reclaim his former seat in what should be a better year for Republicans. Of course he first has to make it out of the primary, where former CIA operative Will Hurd seems to be running a strong campaign. Both Hurd and Canseco have a shot at taking this seat, but Gallego will have the advantage of incumbency and because of that this race Leans Democrat.

2014 Election Preview: Illinois

The filing deadline for candidates in Illinois passed last week now we have a pretty good idea who’s running for what. As the filing deadline passes for each state, we’re going to be posting an analysis post on the big elections coming up in 2014. So what does the Land of Lincoln hold in store for next year?

Governor:

With the removal of IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley from the picture, it looks like Governor Pat Quinn’s once doubtful pursuit of the Democratic nomination is now assured. However, winning reelection in the general is another thing entirely. It’s a four-way race on the Republican side and Quinn gets no more than 41% against any of his possible GOP opponents. This is one of the best pick-up opportunities for the Republicans in 2014 and right now the race Leans Republican.

US Senate:

Our original analysis for this race was that incumbent Dick Durbin (D) was a shoo-in for a landslide reelection for a fourth term. But while his reelection is still beyond doubt, the entry of State Senator Jim Oberweis means that a landslide isn’t a forgone conclusion. A recent poll by PPP shows Durbin with only 51% support to Oberweis’s 36%. If this is Durbin’s margin on election day (a big if), it will be the closest race he’s had since he was first elected in 1996. Of course, for now this seat remains Safe Democrat and even with Oberweis it is hard to see how this race becoming competitive.

US House:

IL-8: The way things stand freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) is the favorite for reelection, but if Republicans have a good year in 2014 should could be in for an interesting race. Likely Democrat.

IL-10: Former Rep. Robert Dold (R) narrowly lost reelection in 2012 and now he’s seeking a rematch in 2014 with incumbent Rep. Brad Schneider (D). Given Schneider’s extremely small margin of victory in what should have been a good year for a Democrat, we rate this race as a Toss-Up.

IL-12: The district is dead even in the the Cook Partisan Voting Index, and a good year for the GOP could be enough to unseat Rep. William Enyart (D). Likely Democrat. 

IL-13: In 2012 Rep. Rodney Davis  won reelection by the skin of his teeth in a district that’s tipped toward the Democrats. While he likely do better in 2014, this seat isn’t out of reach for a flip. Leans Republican.

IL-17: It looks this race is going to be a rematch of 2012, with freshman Rep. Cheri Bustos (D) trying to hold on against former Rep. Bobby Schilling (R). A September poll from We Ask America shows Bustos with a slim 1-point lead over Schilling. It’s going to be a tough fight for Bustos, so we rate this race as Leans Democrat.

Breaking: Nelson Mandela Dies

Former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela died at his home South Africa after battling numerous illnesses over the past few months. He was 95.

Mandela was born on July 18th, 1918 in the village of Mvezo in Umtatu, which at that time was part of South Africa’s Cape Province. He was born into royalty, being the great-grandson of Thembu King Ngubengcuka. After losing his father at the age of 9, Mandela was entrusted under the guardianship of Thembu Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. He later attended the University of Fort Hare for one year, but did not complete his degree.

During the 40s, 50s, and 60s he was involved with the African National Congress (ANC), which advocated for racial equality in South Africa. Because of his political activities against the Apartheid regime, Mandela was imprisoned for almost thirty years. During his incarceration Mandela continued to work towards equality and was looked up to by his fellow political prisoners. While imprisoned, he met with foreign dignitaries and the South African government, and was the de facto head of the anti-Apartheid movement even behind bars.

In 1990, with South Africa isolated by international sanctions and under pressure from enemies and allies alike, President F.W. de Klerk ordered the release of Mandela. After his release, he worked with de Klerk to bring about political and economic reforms, culminating in the 1994 general election. The election, first one in South African history with universal suffrage, resulted in Mandela winning the office of the President of South Africa.

Mandela retired from politics in 1999, and continued his political advocacy well into his retirement. Taking on the role of the elder statesmen, Mandela spoke on behalf of human rights across the world and in his native South Africa. He is survived by his wife of 15 years Graça Machel and by his two daughters and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”-Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial 1964