The Best 2016 Candidates of 2013

Which (possible) 2016 candidate was the best in 2013? The worst? We made a list.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

It's year-end list time, being the end of the year, and one of the biggest political trends of 2013 was obsessively predicting the 2016 election. Which (possible) 2016 candidate was the best in 2013? The worst? We made a list, evaluating how many states each possible candidate won or lost in 2016 based on how he or she did this year. You can bank on this.*

* Do not bank on this.

13. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +2 states
On 2016 general election: -14 states

It's sort of hard to believe that Ted Cruz has been in office for less than a year. Over the course of the past 11 months, he's done an admirable job of seizing space in the public's attention. Lamentably for his 2016 chances, the public's assessment of Cruz once they noticed him wasn't entirely favorable.

Cruz spent the summer touring the country with Heritage Action, making the case for repealing Obamacare — a cause which as early as August was clearly doomed. When the House called his bluff, forcing the Senate Republicans to try and defend a government funding bill that would remove funding for Obamacare, Cruz first threw up his hands and then, under pressure from the party's right wing, launched into a 21-hour filibuster that wasn't a filibuster.

The government shut down. Cruz applauded it. Other Republicans got mad. And Americans weren't terribly thrilled with it either.

In the wake of the shutdown, Cruz's poll numbers plummeted — except among Tea Partiers. Being known as the guy who fought an unwinnable fight at the expense of the entire government might help win far-right votes in the primary, but isn't going to help him when the general rolls around.

12. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +1 states
On 2016 general election: -4 states

It's not entirely clear that Jindal plans to run. He seemed to have presidential plans lined up a few years ago, you may remember, until his poorly received State of the Union rebuttal. He may not want that sort of attention again.

If he does, his weird defense of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson might come back to haunt him. In the heat of that debate — which (it seems so long ago) was about how Robertson made vulgar anti-gay comments — Jindal offered his support for one of his state's wealthier residents. "I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment," Jindal wrote. "It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."

The accuracy of that argument aside, subsequent revelations about Robertson's past comments and broader claim to the right to disparage gays probably wouldn't help Jindal win too many blue states in 2016.

11. Rep. Peter King of New York

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +0 states
On 2016 general election: +0 states

In July, King declared that he planned to run for president. In every presidential election cycle there are similarly low-familiarity candidates who make bids and who suffer similar fates. (Remember Thaddeus McCotter? No?) What did Peter King do to help his 2016 candidacy in 2013? He announced that he might have a candidacy. This candidacy was based on waging war against the conservative southerners in his party who voted against Hurricane Sandy relief. ( "We say fine, if you want to be anti-Northeast, then the Northeast is going to be anti-them," King said.) That's a start of sorts.

10. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +1 states
On 2016 general election: 0 states

Walker, who in 2012 came preeeeetty close to not even being Wisconsin's governor any more after he beat a recall effort in his home state, stayed fairly low-key in 2013. In November, he released a memoir, Unintimidated, which recounts that fight. (It didn't attract a lot of attention.)

He did make one direct reference to 2016, in the I'm-not-talking-about-running-for-president-but-wink-wink way that candidates do at this point in the process. Appearing on This Week when his book came out, he offered some sage advice: Whoever runs for president should be 1) someone not from Washington and 2) someone with experience as a governor. Wink wink wink. This probably didn't convince a lot of people, but who knows. Given how lousy his poll numbers are in Iowa, he needs the help.

9. Vice President Joe Biden

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +0 states
On 2016 general election: +0 states

In 2013, Joe Biden got some sandwiches and goofed his way through Asia and went to Iowa and called the wrong guy on the phone, twice. And no one really noticed.

The White House tried to turn wacky, fun-loving Joe Biden into an asset. It didn't really take. His leadership on gun control efforts didn't yield anything; when it came time to broker a budget deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put the freewheelin' Biden on ice.

As we said in April, Joe Biden won't be president. But: 2013 didn't change that at all.

8. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +0 states
On 2016 general election: +1 states

Rubio had a tough year. It started with his now-infamous State of the Union response (clearly a minefield for Republicans) in which he really, really needed a drink.

But it was worse politically. Once a champion of immigration reform, pressure from conservative groups forced Rubio to all-but-repudiate his work on the measure. He kept going through the I-am-a-Republican-who-wants-to-be-president motions, though, including taking a trip to the Mideast last spring.

Even his attempt to clamber on the conservative cause celebre, Obamacare repeal, didn't really work, given that it relied on a constitutional amendment.

The good news? He mostly avoided being caught up in the Republicans' post-shutdown cross-fire, and can reasonably talk to both sides of every contentious issue this year. As planned.

7. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +3 states
On 2016 general election: 0 states

Is Rick Perry running? Yes, unless he's just a big fan of Iowa. Perry, out on his farewell tour as governor, mostly stayed out of the news this year. Given how completely awful his 2012 campaign was, that was probably for the best.

When he did pop up, it was thematic: Rick Perry reminding you that he is very, very conservative. In June, he vetoed an equal pay law that would have ensured fair salaries for women. He was sure to reach out to women when it came time to sign Texas' restrictive new anti-abortion law, though, surrounding himself with a gender-diverse crowd as he made legal the bill that State Sen. Wendy Davis crusaded so publicly against. And he stood behind Texas' newly Supreme-Court-approved voter ID law. None of this will hurt when he's making the case to Republican voters.

But! Perry also got cool new glasses, so maybe that will help with the youth vote. Politics is tough to predict.

6. Jeb Bush of Florida

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +1 states
On 2016 general election: +1 states

A whispery item at Politico in November suggested that Jeb Bush might be the new favored 2016 candidate of Wall Street. Imagine that! A Bush running for president. Now, it's not clear who was doing the whispering, and the entire thing seemed to say that Bush wouldn't run if Chris Christie runs, but it's been a while since the idea of a Bush running for president was greeted with anything other than sweaty palms by most Americans.

To that end, his brother's rebirth as an artiste and object of affection among Republicans hasn't hurt Jeb's position. Nor has his father's emergence as a kindly grandfather type who wears neat socks. The Bush brand is back, baby, and with only three years to spare.

5. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +2 states
On 2016 general election: +1 states

Huckabee, who has a successful show on Fox News, wasn't really on people's radar screens as a possible repeat contender. When he announced that he was quitting his radio show, Huckabee set up what came next: an interview earlier this month in which he all-but-declared. He pitched himself as a populist, suggesting that he'd focus on poverty and inequality (which he claimed to be doing in 2008). "It scares some Republicans quite frankly," Huckabee said. "They'll say, 'He's a populist!' What they actually mean by that is, you know, he actually knows some people that are poor."

If Huckabee — whose 2008 bid fared better than many people expected, thanks in large part to his personality — delivers that message effectively, he could ride the message to wide support from independents. Can a religious conservative appeal to liberals on economic issues? Ask Pope Francis.

4. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +2 states
On 2016 general election: +2 states

Ryan's strength has always been the public perception that he's a numbers wonk. The 2012 campaign muddied that a little, making him a somewhat ineffective attack dog for Mitt Romney, but 2013 gave him the chance to rebuild his reputation. Which he did, by putting together a budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray and also by having one of the most robust, subtle PR games in Washington.

He's also one of the few Republicans whose reputation was burnished by the shutdown. He got to play the "wise elder" role as the rest of his team ate itself alive, the guy who could perhaps bring some rationality to the proceedings. This was almost certainly harder than it sounds.

His 2013 wasn't flawless; his attempt to play the I'm-worried-about-poor-people card hasn't gone very well yet. But given the rubble surrounding other House Republicans, Paul Ryan is the closest thing they've got to a phoenix. Or so various press releases and on-background conversations might have you believe. And as will probably be pointed out in the book he's publishing next year.

3. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +1 states
On 2016 general election: +4 states

This is actually true: When Rand Paul stood up in March to begin his filibuster of Obama's CIA pick, he was still relatively unknown to Americans. The filibuster got Paul what he wanted directly — a one-word answer from Attorney General Eric Holder about targeting Americans with drones — but also changed his perception. No longer was he just "Ron Paul's kid." He was his own man, a man who clearly planned to run for president.

2013 was rocky, to be sure. He copped to a series of plagiarism incidents and dumped a staffer after old pro-Confederacy writings came to light. He threatened to filibuster a vote on attacking Syria, then changed his mind, then didn't need to.

But Paul established two key markers of his independence and libertarian mindset. First, he made his support for the reform of drug laws very clear. Then, he pushed vocally for reform to the NSA's surveillance tools, including expressing his support for Edward Snowden. (His fight with Chris Christie on this topic could prove particularly useful.) Between now and 2016, both of those issues probably have more legs than the plagiarism stuff — and appeal to more moderate voters.

2. Hillary Clinton

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +0 states
On 2016 general election: +0 states

Here's the two-step plan Clinton had to implement this year in order to move forward with her presidential campaign. Step one: Leave the State Department. Step two: Not screw up. Successful on both points.

First the caveats. The Benghazi thing probably won't go away, and Kerry's success as Secretary of State is casting some clouds on her legacy. But beyond that? Everything is humming.

And we mean everything. She's enormously popular in Iowa, and almost certainly equally popular in every other state. (We listed her as being "plus zero states" above mostly because she's already locked down all 50 states in support, probably.) She's getting endorsements before she's declared; she's lining up campaign appearances. She's reaching out to black voters. There's already a campaign infrastructure in place, albeit as a PAC. Her husband is already staking out positions in opposition to Obama. When she "decides next year" whether or not she'll run, that decision will be retroactive to January 20, 2013.

Clinton didn't win over any new general election states this year, either. But she didn't need to. She's already a juggernaut.

1. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey

Effect of 2013 on 2016 primary: +3 states
On 2016 general election: +5 states

No 2016 candidate had a better year than Chris Christie. This does not mean that he will win in 2016, or win in primaries. But Christie did just about all he could to both ends. In November, we made a real-time GOP horse race tool. Christie has never trailed any other candidate.

The main thing Christie did to bolster his chances in 2016 was to plant a gigantic flag in Trenton saying "A Winning Moderate Republican Lives Here." His overwhelming reelection offered Christie the chance to say that he was a Republican who could win blue states while championing Republican values. Whether or not that argument sticks is a fair question, but he can certainly make the argument. (As we pointed out in August, this has been tried before, unsuccessfully.)

In an appeal to liberals, Christie also banned "gay conversion" therapy and allowed some medicinal use of marijuana (after facing some pressure). In an appeal to conservatives, he vetoed some strict gun control measures while approving others.

And there are the intangibles. Sensitive to jokes about his weight — and, probably, actual concerns about how it would affect his chances — Christie announced in May that he'd undergone lap band surgery. (The effects of which are slowly emerging.) Perhaps most importantly, Christie was declared the coolest 2016 candidate by none other than The Wire.

There's one dark cloud hanging over Christie's 2013, one seems likely to dissipate: allegations that Christie allies exacted retribution on the town of Fort Lee after its mayor declined to endorse the governor. That retribution was comprised of a week-long traffic back-up that a Christie appointee blamed on a nonexistent traffic study.

But that's as bad as his 2013 got. If he keeps up that string of luck for 2014 and 2015, who knows what will happen? No, literally. Who knows. It's far too early to be talking about any of this.

Note: We did not include a certain tangerine-haired New York real estate developer on this list because he would never, ever actually run for president and every time you say his name out loud or in print his dark powers grow stronger.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.