Chris Christie, John Kerry had the best year

Not everyone had a terrible 2013. These two men had a good year, and set themselves up well for the months ahead.

Best year: Gov. Chris Christie

In January, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was beating back the notion that, in accepting President Barack Obama’s help after Hurricane Sandy, he had aided and abetted the Democrat’s re-election the previous fall. Conservatives viewed those pictures of him touring storm-ravaged areas with Obama as evidence of his apostasy.

Now, in December, Christie is sitting atop the Republican presidential field as the jockeying for 2016 begins.

That’s a pretty good year.

Christie’s 2013 actually got off to a great start in late 2012, when Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced that he would not challenge Christie and would instead focus on running for the Senate.

With Booker out of the picture, the governor’s re-election became much more likely, particularly after Democrats settled on a state senator named Barbara Buono (who?) as their standard-bearer.

Sensing opportunity, Christie and his political team set out to not just win but win big. And they did. Not only did Christie become the first Republican in more than two decades to capture more than 50 percent of the statewide vote in New Jersey, but he also won female voters by 15 points, claimed a majority of the Hispanic vote and took one in five African-American votes.

Before November was out, Christie was elected to chair the Republican Governors Association, a perch that will allow him to attract major donors who finance presidential bids.

The only problem for Christie in 2013? It wasn’t 2015.

Good year: Secretary of State John Kerry

John Kerry spent the vast majority of his 70 years waiting to be secretary of state. That lifetime of preparation showed once the Senate confirmed him as the nation’s top diplomat at the end of January.

Replacing the perpetually risk-averse Hillary Rodham Clinton in the job, Kerry, without the constraints of a prospective political campaign looming, went all in. Repeatedly.

Take Syria. After Obama boxed himself in by drawing a “red line” on President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Kerry stepped in — perhaps accidentally — to suggest that a U.S. military strike could be averted if Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons. Though Kerry had previously advocated for a more forceful U.S. role in Syria — and seemed left hung out to dry when Obama took a plan for strikes to Congress — he emerged with a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem.

Then take Iran. The country’s nuclear program has long been a thorn in presidential sides. Enter Kerry, who played a critical role in loosening sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to freeze its nuclear activities.

And of course there’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kerry has traveled to the Mideast nine times since becoming secretary of state, showing how big a priority it is to him to negotiate a peace deal between the longtime enemies. The two sides began talking again in July, although Kerry’s optimism about a two-state solution could be more aspirational than realistic.

Each of these successes is tenuous, and the stalled talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to keep foreign troops in the country beyond 2014 remain a big concern. Yet, it’s hard to imagine an American secretary of state having a better first year than Kerry’s had in 2013. And that’s encouraging, because Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Middle East peace will still be on his to-do list in 2014.

© 2013, The Washington Post

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