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And the winner is ... Hillary or Chris?

Photo by Jim Hendricks

Photo by Jim Hendricks

The real winner of the 2012 presidential cycle may very well not be the person occupying of the White House this January.

As I'm writing this, it's Tuesday afternoon and the only consistency among the prediction gurus that I'd seen was that nobody had a real clue as to who was going to win.

But the president who takes office in 2013 will have to deal with all the leftovers from economic hangover that weren't handled this year and a split Congress that reeks of partisan acrimony. And it'll be worse if Democrats and Republicans can't come to an understanding next month that will keep sequestration from nailing the economy. You'd think even federal lawmakers would make it a point to avoid that train wreck, but then, who would've thought that legislators would have created this ticking time bomb to start with?

It doesn't look like a fun four years ahead for anybody.

And a lot can happen in that time. Many political stars have risen, burned out and, sometimes, even re-ignited in the span of four years. I can remember back when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford and commentators of the time were questioning whether the Republican Party, reeling from Watergate and inflation, would ever be relevant again. Some even wondered whether the GOP could hold on as a major political party.

Then Ronald Reagan saddled up in 1980.

But based on what happened this year, the two people who may be in the best position in the 2016 Presidential Sweepstakes may be Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Chris Christie for the Republicans.

Christie was lauded by even some of those loathe to laud Republicans for anything for exhibiting bipartisanship in a time of crisis, giving Obama credit for the federal response to Superstorm Sandy when it came barreling through New Jersey.

While that doesn't sit well with many Republicans right now, it has shown other Republicans, Democrats and -- perhaps most importantly -- independents that Christie not only can but will place the good of his constituents -- the people of New Jersey -- ahead of politics.

There will likely remain some bitterness among many Republicans over Christie giving Obama an image boost at an inopportune time, but for the majority of Americans the image that will stick will be that of a governor who cared more about the people than the party during a crisis.

Clinton, meanwhile, has a couple of advantages on her side of the aisle. She's been in the White House -- lots of jokes about co-presidents during Bill Clinton's two terms -- and she's got experience as a U.S. senator and as secretary of state, where she's done a credible job and has previously announced plans to step down after Obama's current term.

What she does then is anyone's guess. She's said she's retiring from public life and won't run for president again, but she's also at her most popular level in two decades. And she's demonstrated loyalty under trying circumstances both to her husband during his shenanigans and to the Obama administration, particularly in light of the Libya attack.

Her other advantage? Bill Clinton, who has gained popularity the longer he has been removed from his own terms in the White House. Many who didn't care for his conduct at the time now look back fondly to the way the economy was humming along at the time. He also may be the most accomplished politician since Reagan. Obama's campaign was foundering until Clinton placed his arm around the president and more or less told Americans that a vote for Obama was, essentially, a vote for him.

Like I said, a lot can happen in four years. But the 2012 race for the White House is over. And it won't be real popular with those of us who are experiencing election fatigue, but the race for the White House in 2016 has only just begun.

Email Jim Hendricks at jim.hendricks@albanyherald.com.