The calendar on my desk is stuck on December 15, which can only mean one thing: another election year is upon us. While most of the country is probably still feeling a hangover from 2008 and the contentious legislative battles of the past year, political energy in my home state of Michigan seems to be higher than ever with nearly every state office on the ballot this autumn. But the free-for-all to replace Jennifer Granholm as governor will likely be the race that captures the nation's attention.

Last week came the news that Lt. Governor John Cherry (D) is abandoning his bid, leaving the Democrats without a clear front-runner in a crowded field headlined by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and State House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Township). Bernero is a fiery speaker who has repeatedly come to the defense of the Big Three automakers and labor unions during the past year, but he lacks name recognition outside of the state's capital.

Dillon has shown an independent streak and the ability to make tough decisions during his tenure as governor, but his election as speaker in 2006 drew the ire of the labor unions, one of the state's core Democratic constituencies. He is currently exploring a bid and has yet to throw his name into the hat, though many assume that he will do so in the coming weeks. Political analyst and syndicated columnist Susan Demas isn't convinced Dillon will run, but if he does she expects him to be a strong contender.

"He's a very thoughtful person. He seems to be running as an independent, which is an interesting strategy to take in a Democratic primary," Demas said. "In a crowded field, it could be a good strategy or it could backfire. He has a lot of enemies. I know some hardcore party types and unions are really looking to stop his candidacy in its tracks."

That's likely what has prompted recent reports of state Democratic party leaders approaching Denise Ilitch, the daughter of Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Ceasar's Pizza and owner of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. Ilitch's chances of election are slim due to a lack of electoral experience, despite her considerable wealth and current position as a Regent and the University of Michigan.

On the Republican side, Rep. Pete Hoekstra is the early front-runner despite his occasional penchant for gaffes, such as tweeting his whereabouts on a trip to Iraq. Hoekstra benefits from being the only viable candidate from the west side of the state; Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard are the other two contenders. Cox has been dogged by rumors of his involvement in the scandals still haunting disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, making some party leaders nervous about him potentially securing the nomination only to flame out after more information is revealed. Bouchard has yet to catch fire in the polls, but he's probably the safest candidate the GOP has to offer.

Ann Arbor venture capitalist Rick Snyder has attracted some attention for his campaign, but he has yet to make a dent in the polls and is currently running well behind the three GOP front-runners.

All factors point to a Republican victory this autumn, but the one variable that could change that equation is Dillon. Should he enter the race and secure the support of the unions, his moderate candidacy would probably offer Michigan the best path forward. Otherwise Hoekstra or Bouchard are likely to be the voters' choice. Regardless of which party triumphs this fall, the next governor will be faced with massive structural budget deficits and a series of hard decisions that they will inherit from Governor Granholm, who often elected to kick the can down the road. Whoever it is probably won't be too popular themselves within a year, but sustaining high approval ratings is never going to be easy in the most economically depressed state in the union.

Today is my last day at Atlantic and I want to thank Marc, Allan Holmes and everyone here for giving me such an amazing opportunity. Please check out my work for The Daily Caller starting next week and good luck to your candidates in 2010.