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Mackowiak: The Political Winners of 2011

The intensity of the news cycle has produced more news coverage but less analysis of trends. Fortunately, the end of the calendar year provides both a calm period of time and the necessary reflective mood to enable one to take stock of what occurred over the past year.

The televised Republican presidential debates drew larger audiences than anyone expected, including news executives, confirming the suspicion that politics is in high demand.

The best way to predict the future is to analyze the past. So as we head into 2012, we should first examine who had the best year in politics in 2011.

My suggested winners are:

— Gov. Chris Christie. No figure in American politics has captured the imagination like the New Jersey Republican. Inheriting a budget disaster in 2009, Christie has turned New Jersey upside down with bluntness, leadership, honesty and guts. He was courted to run for president by some of the heaviest hitters in politics and finance but passed, not because he did not think he could win, but because he did not think he was ready. Christie’s Oct. 4 news conference when he announced his decision was pitch perfect, delivered with humility and grace, convincing even the most cynical watcher that he felt he could not violate his promise to New Jersey by leaving early to seek national office. His team, including political adviser Mike DuHaime, Deputy Chiefs of Staff Bill Stepien and Maria Comella, and consigliere Bill Palatucci, is among the sharpest and shrewdest in the country. His endorsement of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney provided a major boost for Romney’s campaign, and his criticisms of President Barack Obama’s leadership have had the greatest resonance of any previously made by a Republican. He must now delicately balance the call of national politics with his own state’s challenges and his re-election bid in a blue state in 2013.

— Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A former (controversial) Cabinet secretary and immediate past attorney general of New York, the Democrat was elected by a landslide to the same office his father famously held. In the process, after a rare political comeback, Cuomo has become a powerful governor, following a string of failures that preceded him in that office. Cuomo made national news when he passed landmark same-sex marriage legislation in June, causing the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza to write a piece titled “Andrew Cuomo: 2016 Frontrunner?” A September Quinnipiac poll found 66 percent approving of Cuomo’s job performance, a major achievement in a state in the fiscal mess that New York is with a Legislature universally believed to be among the most dysfunctional in the country. Cuomo, now proposing major tax reform (including increases for the wealthy), raised $20 million for his 2010 election, and the media and financial power of New York cannot be overstated for national politics.

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