Tallying up 2010's political winners and losers

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 7:33 PM

Time to settle the accounts for 2010. In the zero-sum game of political capital, our region has had its Warren Buffetts and its Bernie Madoffs. Here's how they sort out:

D.C. winner: Michelle Rhee. The schools chancellor once spoke of sticking around for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's two terms - which would have made her the city's longest-tenured school chief in decades. But a second Fenty term was not to be, and Rhee exited the D.C. Public Schools amid an ill-informed national narrative that she and Fenty were martyrs of teacher union politics. She has now decamped to run a billion-dollar lobbying group, where she gets to remain the darling of the Sun Valley Conference set while eschewing the grittier work of running a school system. That's been left to top deputy Kaya Henderson, who is expected to uphold Rhee's reform bona fides while avoiding the rhetorical bombs.

D.C. loser: Marion Barry. The District's mayor-for-life paid for his 2009 abuse of public funds in March, when his colleagues censured him and stripped him of his committee chairmanship. Now, courtesy of Chairman-elect Kwame R. Brown, he again will run a committee - the lightweight panel on "community affairs and aging." And although Barry backed Vincent C. Gray's successful challenge to Fenty, it is still far from certain what dividends Gray's victory will pay Barry and Ward 8. But he doesn't think he's down: "Politically, I am stronger now than ever before," he told The Post last week.

Virginia winner: Ken Cuccinelli. While Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has been mired in, for instance, his intractable plan to privatize the state's liquor stores, the state's attorney general has made a national phenomenon out of his ideological crusades. His court battle against former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann might not have gone much of anywhere, but Cuccinelli got a fabulous Christmas present from U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who ruled favorably earlier this month on a key provision of his challenge to the federal heath-care law, and sending Cuccinelli to cable news shows near you.

Virginia loser: Virginia Democrats. So much for "blue Virginia." A year after Democrats' eight-year gubernatorial run ended, they suffered another devastating setback, seeing Rick Boucher, Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello ousted from their congressional seats and Gerry Connolly very nearly lose his. Meanwhile, the House of Delegates is ever more deeply in GOP hands, and the Dems' Senate majority has thinned. One blessing for the party: The split governance in Richmond means that the GOP won't have sole control over redistricting.

Maryland winner: Gov. Martin O'Malley. It's not just that the incumbent handily dispatched his old sparring partner, Robert L. Ehrlich (R). It's that he did so in the most Republican-favorable electoral year of a generation and managed to double his margin of victory from four years prior - putting him on a shortlist of national Democrats to watch. Now, as head of the Democratic Governors Association, he has a freer hand to travel the country, making influential and deep-pocketed friends to help him pursue grander ambitions.

Maryland loser: Maryland Republicans. As hapless as Virginia Dems might have been, the Maryland GOP was largely unable to take advantage of the national tail winds - save for state Sen. Andy Harris reclaiming the 1st Congressional District. Ehrlich's second consecutive loss, as well as the loss of two more state Senate seats, has caused some soul-searching. With ousted state Sen. Alex X. Mooney, an unabashed conservative, now running the state party, the GOP message looks to take a sharp right turn away from Ehrlichian moderation. But will that play in deep-blue Maryland?

Regional winner: Prince George's County residents. Sure, Jack Johnson and his wife, Leslie, are big losers, humiliated by the November FBI sting that caught them allegedly destroying evidence of corruption. But all props to the voters of Prince George's, who opened themselves a window after the federal lawmen closed the door on the county's reputation. By voting for reform-minded Rushern L. Baker (D) to follow Johnson as county executive, the county has found a path past the jokes and innuendo.

Regional loser: Elected officials. Congress this month passed a "second stimulus" by continuing the Bush tax cuts and adding a hefty payroll tax slash on top of it. That might pump up the national economy in time to improve the 2012 reelection prospects for national pols, but it doesn't help state and local officials trying to plug ever-expanding budget gaps - or teachers, police and other government workers likely to see their jobs and benefits cut. In 2011, expect variations on the recent drama in Montgomery, where County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed an ambulance fee, only to see it rejected by voters. The result: an additional $14 million in cuts. The area's guardians of the bottom line will be faced with more choices between the practical and principled.

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