There are only two elections with national implications in 2013 and one of them isn't very exciting: the gubernatorial contest in New Jersey in which Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) will defeat state senator Barbara Buono (D) by a wide margin. The other one, in contrast, has strong implications for 2014 and 2016. Yesterday, at a state convention, Virginia Republicans nominated an extreme conservative, Ken Cuccinelli, as their candidate for governor. Equally conservative candiates were nominated for lieutenant governor (a black minister, E.W. Jackson) and Attorney General (state senator Mark Obenshain). The Democratic nominee is Terry McAuliffe, a long-time Democratic fundraiser, who is about as apolitical as a candidate for elected office can be. He's kind of the mirror image of Karl Rove--he fights very hard to make sure his horse wins the race, but doesn't care so much what the candidate does after he wins. If McAuliffe wins--and current polls mostly put him ahead--he'll have to make choices, of course, but he probably hasn't gotten that far yet.
What makes this race so interesting is that for the first time in quite a while, a red-blooded, full-throated, take-no-prisoners, abortion-is-first-degree-murder conservative, Cuccinelli, gets to go up against a moderate Democrat in a swing state in the marquee race of the year. Both parties will be putting everything they've got into this race. It is de facto a national campaign. If Cuccinelli wins, it will encourage tea party candidates to challenge mainstream Republicans in 2014 and certainly in 2016. Such a win is likely to end the soul searching the GOP has undergone since November: are we too conservative or not conservative enough? A McAuliffe win will dishearten the tea party. They finally got their ideal shot: a staunch, competent, ideological conservative with no serious sex or financial scandals against a moderate Democrat who doesn't particularly inspire anyone (because he doesn't really stand for anything). And this in a key swing state that serves as a good proxy for the country. If Cuccinelli runs a good campaign and still loses, mainstream Republicans are going to be saying: "You had your chance, you blew it, now fold up your tents and slink off quietly."
A Cuccinelli win will embolden the most conservative 2016 presidential nominees, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), former senator Rick Santorum, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), and quite a few others. A McAuliffe win will embolden the least conservative candidate in the potential field, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who will loudly tell the tea party: "You guys can't win general elections in swing states, so shut the f**k up and get outta here. They are not likely to take kindly to that, leading to sparks in 2016.
Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) has announced that she is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Handel attracted national attention when she was an executive at the Susan G. Komen Foundation and defunded Planned Parenthood, even though it provides screening for breast cancer. Handel's problem with it is that Planned Parenthood also provides abortions.
Handel is far from a shoo-in for the Republican nomination. Representatives Paul Broun (R-GA), Phil Gingrey (R-GA), and Jack Kingston (R-GA) have already announced and there may be more to come. The Democrats don't have a candidate in this deep red state, but if former senator Max Cleland or Michelle Nunn, the daughter of legendary senator Sam Nunn, runs they might have a small chance, but only if the Republicans tear themselves to bits in a bitter primary. Most likely, though, a bloodied, tattered, and broke Republican will emerge from the primary and still make if over the finish line first in the general election