1. Can Obama regain his mojo?
The latest Gallup data show the president’s approval rating is now even with his disapproval rating, with both at 48 percent. That’s the first time Obama hasn’t been underwater in the polls since September 2013.
It’s not hard to see why. Economic news continues to get better. The stock market recently cracked 18,000. And gas prices have dropped.
Does this mean Obama will suddenly return to Washington and be a popular president? Of course not. Opposition to him is pretty baked-in. The question is whether he’ll have real political capital in dealing with the new Republican-controlled Congress. And political capital aside, he’s got his legacy to think about.
2. Will anything get done?
Congress hasn’t gotten much done in recent years. When it has, it was because it faced a deadline and consequences for not passing something. Now that both chambers are controlled by the GOP for the first time in Obama’s tenure, does that change?
Republicans will contend that they can pass legislation and put it on Obama’s desk, thereby increasing pressure on Obama. Of course, it still remains to be seen whether that legislation will actually get to Obama’s desk. Republicans, after all, control 54 Senate seats — not 60, the threshold for overcoming filibusters.
3. Does the Democratic Party turn the page?
Besides the presidency, the Democratic Party is arguably in its worst position since the Great Depression. Its deficits in Congress, governorships and state legislatures are at or near their lowest points in more than 80 years.
Democrats will note that Hillary Clinton is ahead in 2016 presidential polls, but they’ve got problems in basically any election not involving the Electoral College.
The Democratic Party is still being led by some very familiar faces. So who lead it going forward? And when does the transition begin?
4. Can anyone make Hillary Clinton sweat?
She has a much bigger lead in polling today than she did eight years ago. And a lot of it has to do with the lack of viable alternatives.
The field of potential challengers to Clinton is thin. About the only candidate who could be the liberal alternative to Clinton is outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Which Democrat who might run in 2016 will be able to raise the money and give Clinton a run for hers? We should know in a few months whether anyone can.
5. Does the GOP field devolve into chaos?
It’s the most open contest in recent history. And almost every potential candidate is a governor or senator who has the potential to compete.
But Republicans are wary of infighting, and having 12 candidates on the debate stage fighting to get noticed could be a recipe for disaster. Look for the GOP establishment to try to rally around a candidate from the outset, perhaps former Florida governor Jeb Bush, attempt to reduce the number of debates and encourage their many candidates to play nice. That doesn’t mean it will work.