If you think campaigns start too early, consider how close we came to 2016 starting in 2012. Fear not: Next week actually will be all about Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton, even though last year wasn't.
Voters are voting, and that's always cause for celebration. We can't think of anything better to do while waiting for HealthCare.gov to load than hitting refresh on exit polls. So smoke 'em if you got 'em, but know that you may have to pay taxes on that in Colorado soon.
Here's a glimpse of some of the stories your ABC News political team will be tracking in the week ahead:
For Gov. Chris Christie, 2016 starts Wednesday. That will be the day after he's almost certainly reelected to a second term, with a huge margin that shows his brand of leadership can work for a Republican these days, even in a deep-blue state. Or so the argument goes – and Christie will be aggressively making that argument under his new leadership of the Republican Governors Association in the coming months. For a beleaguered GOP, Christie's continued popularity is a rare bright spot these days. His ability to appeal to Democrats and independents will be closely studied by party strategists eager to regain national momentum. But Christie's particular kind of flash doesn't necessarily shine elsewhere in the Republican Party, particularly among social conservatives and tea partiers. Christie's hope is that winning helps change minds.
Veteran Democratic rainmaker and Clinton buddy Terry McAuliffe could very well be the next governor of Virginia. If polls hold up and McAuliffe beats Republican Ken Cuccinelli on Tuesday, it will mark a major victory for McAuliffe and both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who campaigned extensively for McAuliffe and used their vast networks to help staff his campaign. It would speak to Virginia's changing demographics – and the local and national public souring on the tea party movement, which counts Cuccinelli among its stars. Cuccinelli is hoping to drive up turnout among his socially and fiscally conservative base, in an ugly campaign that pits two flawed candidates against each other. The third-party candidate, a libertarian, could easily draw more of the vote than the margin between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli – as a protest, and also a reflection of the divide inside the Republican Party.
Food stamps that go out to some 47 million Americans saw a cut go into effect Friday, with the expiration of a stimulus provision that provided a temporary boost. That cut – as much as $36 per month for families of four – will look small compared to what Congress might do next. Earlier this fall, House Republicans moved to slash $40 billion from food-stamp programs – cutting benefits in half in a vote that was cast as an attempt to reform a runaway program. Senators are on record with a much smaller cut, but a cut nonetheless. The issue is now critical to negotiations over the much broader farm bill, the once-every-five-years vehicle for all manner of national agriculture and nutrition programs. This is the next front in the tea party's budget-cutting fervor –one with enormous consequences for many of the nation's poorest residents.
Buckle in for the 2014 race that could easily be the more expensive, the dirtiest, and the most fascinating. On Monday, former Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to announce his campaign to seek to recapture the governor's office in Florida. This time, he'll be doing it as a Democrat, after holding office as a Republican, then leaving the party to become an independent. Crist's one-of-a-kind political journey has taken him from John McCain's vice-presidential short-list … to a famous hug with President Obama … to a third-party flameout in a race against Sen. Marco Rubio … and now to a likely matchup against Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla. Scott, a former health care executive who rose to prominence opposing the Obama health care law, won in 2010 with strong tea party support. But Scott's leadership has made him enemies in both directions, plunging his approval rating and leaving him vulnerable to Crist, who retains personal popularity despite his political evolution.
Election Day is almost certain to bring New York City its first Democratic mayor in two decades, in a leftward lurch for the Big Apple. Bill de Blasio is running away with the race to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after a surprise primary victory based on a promise for social justice and fighting income inequality (read: higher taxes on the rich). Other big cities electing mayors include Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Houston, and Boston, where residents follow up their first World Series victory in 95 years by electing their first new mayor in 20. Meanwhile, the GOP establishment tries to save a House seat from a tea party challenge in Alabama, while Colorado voters are deciding on two new taxes on marijuana sales.