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Two high-profile governors races ensure 2013 won't be quiet year

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By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
(CNN) — Take a larger than life governor who may have designs on the White House and a battleground state crucial in presidential politics, and guess what: 2013 might not be as quiet a political year as you thought.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states to hold gubernatorial contests in the year after a presidential election, and in both states, the campaign clocks are already ticking.
“Virginia and New Jersey are going to get a lot of attention because they are the only games in town in 2013,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.
“The eyes of the world are on these two races,” agrees Colm O’Comartun, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, who adds that “next year in Virginia and New Jersey we’re going to play a significant part.”
And the two races will be a hot topic as the Republican Governors Association begins two days of meetings on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
In the wake of big Democratic victories in the 2008 election, the GOP swept both races in the Old Dominion and the Garden State from Democrats.
“In 2009, the victories in Virginia and New Jersey kick-started the GOP comeback in the 2010 midterm elections,” said RGA Communications Director Mike Schrimpf, who suggested that Republican victories in 2013 could have a similar impact on the 2014 midterms.
He added that “it’s a great opportunity for the Republican Party to get its focus back on results oriented leadership.”
While both races will get tons of attention, New Jersey may steal more of the spotlight thanks to its tough-talking Republican governor, Chris Christie, who may also, down the road, be a contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Christie says his decision on running for re-election has been slowed by Hurricane Sandy’s devastation to parts of his state. The governor has spent the past two weeks dealing almost exclusively with the powerful storm and its aftermath. At a news conference earlier this week, he offered no timetable for a decision, but did say he’ll soon give the 2013 race some serious consideration.
While Christie has yet to make any announcement, some GOP strategists are convinced the first-term governor, who’s very popular among Republicans and who served as a key surrogate for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and was seriously considered as Romney’s running mate, will run for re-election.
“The governor’s race in New Jersey is ultimately going to be decided on the strength of Governor Christie’s record,” Schrimpf said. “He’s shown a tremendous ability to get big things done in a bipartisan fashion, including education reform, pension reform, and most recently with his leadership after Sandy. What voters want in their governor is a leader who can get things done, and there’s no doubt that Governor Christie has gotten a lot done in his first term as governor.”
Democrats see it a different way, and highlight the state’s 9.8% unemployment rate.
“On the economic front I think he’s failed to deliver again and again and again. He’s got a huge raft of negatives against him that is sometimes hidden by the rhetoric and theater and side show that is Governor Christie,” said O’Comartun, who added that “New Jersey is a state that’s brought down big characters before.”
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