The first presidential primary is still more than two years away and the midterms will almost certainly reshuffle the White House deck of cards, but it’s not too early to consider six events in 2013 could resonate in 2016.

1. Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Testimony

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson incurred a heap of criticism for his dogged questioning of Hillary Clinton in January about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.  But amid the heated, unscripted exchange, he may have elicited one of the most potent attack lines Republicans will deploy against her if she runs for president. 

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”

“What difference at this point does it make?” will be stitched into ads and replayed thousands of times by Republicans and their conservative allies in an effort to vilify Clinton as incompetent and indifferent to the death of four Americans.  In her largely risk-free, uncontroversial tenure at Foggy Bottom, Benghazi stands out as flashpoint.  It remains an obsession of right-wing media and animates the GOP base.  One top Republican strategist calls it “a tire fire that just doesn’t go out.”  And for Clinton’s opponents, her testimony only poured gas on the blaze.

2. The Rise of Ted Cruz

A year ago, Ted Cruz was a little-known senator whose aides bristled at questions about his national ambitions. After leading the government shutdown and traveling to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Cruz's designs couldn't be clearer. While Marco Rubio may have begun the year as the anointed  “savior of the Republican Party,” Cruz is ending it as the chief ringleader of movement conservatives.  While few strategists envision Cruz as the ultimate GOP nominee, his unapologetic, ideological fervor would reshape the field and the primary fight.  “Cruz running would inevitably drag the other GOP primary candidates to the right, potentially further than Romney got dragged” said Democratic strategist Ben LaBolt, who served as press secretary for Obama’s 2012 campaign. “No doubt he’d create a long list of ideological purity tests that would make it more difficult for the nominee to win the general.”  Even if Cruz doesn’t run, he’s asserted himself as a prime player whose blessing will be sought after.

3. Terry McAuliffe’s election as Virginia governor

Before this year, Terry McAuliffe was known primarily by Washington insiders as a master moneyman, strategist and mouthpiece for the Democratic Party.  As a result of November’s election, he’ll be soon be introduced to the nation as governor of Virginia—the chief executive of one of the most important battleground states in presidential politics.  Strategists on both sides of the aisle have long believed that securing governor’s mansions in swing states is one of the most critical factors in determining how a state votes for the White House.  Given McAuliffe’s close ties with the Clintons, Republicans now fret their chances at capturing the state in 2016 have taken a demonstrable hit.   “Bottom line is that the Democrats, particularly Hillary, have established a foothold in a critical state for 2016,” said Brett O’Donnell, who has worked on several GOP presidential campaigns.  “If anyone believes that Terry McAuliffe was primarily interested in being governor of Virginia for any other person, they are naive.  It’s a massive change in the balance of power in the state.  McAuliffe will do everything in his power to guarantee the state for Hillary.”

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