The presidential election is three years away, but the recent government shutdown and the way aspirants responded to it will be a key metric for partisans choosing their next nominee. So how did they fare?
Some lawmakers jumped up or onto the charts, whereas others took a step back. The bad news for the early risers is that there is more than enough time to fall (just ask Howard Dean how long it takes to go from first to worst), and those lagging out of the gates will have plenty of chances to recover.
We'll start with the party currently controlling the White House, since the picture on that side is a bit clearer at this point.
Hillary Clinton: ↑ The former senator and secretary of state benefited from the shutdown by being completely out of the inner workings of a messy operation that confirmed the American public's worst feelings about Washington. She wasn't out of the press though, as she managed to use an off-the-record (whoops!) gathering to remind those in attendance that she supported the Osama bin Laden raid and Vice President (and chief 2016 rival) Joe Biden did not.
Joe Biden: ↓ Vice President Biden played a minor role in this round of Congressional bargaining, running counter to his front row seat hashing out deals in his former workplace during the fiscal cliff in 2013 and a previous tussle over the debt limit in 2011. That's because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada reportedly warned President Barack Obama to keep Biden out of this round of talks, as Hill Democrats felt those previous deals made too many concessions to the GOP.
Unknown third contender: ↔ Yes it's 2013, so perhaps our dark horse Democrat is better served by remaining in the shadows for now. There's plenty of space for a governor like Martin O'Malley of Maryland or Andrew Cuomo of New York to come forth. Or perhaps our mystery candidate is in the Senate, where POTUS buzz emanates from Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
On the Republican side of the ticket, the shutdown had some more dramatic ups and downs for the major contenders.
Ted Cruz: ↑ The squeaky wheel gets the grease. In this case, squeaky wheel is the junior senator from Texas, and the grease is increased media attention and name ID. Cruz has quickly shot himself to the top of the Washington, DC tea party wing, but it remains to be seen whether the spotlight will increase his power and influence or shrivel him up like a raisin.
Chris Christie: ↑ The New Jersey governor recently summed up most Americans' thoughts about Washington dysfunction to the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board saying, "If I was in the Senate right now, I'd kill myself." That outsider image, coupled with the record he is compiling as an executive branch leader, should serve him well as the race begins to heat up.
Marco Rubio: ↓ Attempting a Profiles in Courage moment, the Florida senator made a bold decision to lead the charge to reform the nation's immigration laws which garnered praise from myself and others, but elicited hackles from the conservative grassroots. In an attempt to mitigate that damage, he jumped on the "Defund Obamacare" train led by Sen. Cruz a bit clumsily. Trying to be all things to all people in the Republican Party hurt Rubio, but he has plenty of time to recover.
Paul Ryan: ↑ Mitt Romney's 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee managed to do a better job of the establishment/grassroots two-step attempted by Rubio. He was a no vote on the final debt-ceiling bill, preserving grassroots bona fides. However, prior to that maneuver, he penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal outlining a possible long-term path forward on the deficit and debt.
Rand Paul: ↔ The Kentucky senator is positioning himself as the kinder, gentler tea party candidate. Whether that pays off remains to be seen.
Bobby Jindal: ↑ The head of the Republican Governors Association is trying to focus his party's brand away from Washington. That's a good idea. If it works, he'll be in a great spot as the race starts to heat up.
Unknown Republican Contender: ↔ It's still early and entirely possible that one of the stronger candidates for the nomination isn't even in the conversation yet. Look for governors that think they have what it takes to lead the party and the nation start to pipe up in the months ahead.
The next chapter in this odyssey has yet to be written, but the candidates that manage to make the most of their ups and mitigate the damage from their lows will end up in front when it matters most.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).
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