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Posted at 2:44 PM ET, 12/29/2010

The Fix's 11 big questions for 2011

By Aaron Blake

The calendar is about to turn on a very active 2010 election cycle, but another one waits just around the corner, with the 2012 election expected to begin shortly after the calendar reads "January."

To help you keep track of what's ahead, we came up with 11 key questions that are likely to be answered in 2011, and what they mean for the road ahead.

Click through, and once you've had a look at our ideas, let us know what you're watching for. The comments section awaits.

Can the tea party and the GOP coexist peacefully?

Despite the GOP's success this past year, the verdict is still very much out on whether the tea party is a boon or a liability. And if the environment isn't as friendly to Republicans in the future as it was in 2010, internal divisions can be exacerbated. Look to whether the tea party makes good in its threats to challenge incumbent senators like Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). If those challenges materialize, it could be another arduous primary season for Republicans, who continue to complain privately that tea party candidates hurt them in many races this year.

Does the Obama money machine roll on?

President Obama reached new heights with his online and small-donor fundraising operations four years ago. But that's a lot easier when you're the new guy whom half the country is pretty darn excited about. When you've been president for two-plus years, the luster tends to dull, and those small donors may not feel the same urge to contribute money. We've seen independents sour on Obama, and more recently some liberals have begun to do the same. Fundraising for his reelection campaign begins in 2011; we'll see if he can pull a repeat performance.

What does Sen. John Ensign do?

Right now, the Nevada Republican is seen as a liability for the GOP. He was informed recently that the Justice Department is no longer investigating his affair with a staffer (and an alleged cover-up that followed), but the Senate Ethics Committee is still looking into the matter, and influential Republicans are sending plenty of signals that they prefer he step aside and not run for reelection. Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) would be a welcome replacement and could save the GOP a big headache during a cycle in which they have a great shot at retaking the majority.

What do Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin do?

There is more intrigue about whether these two candidates will run than anyone else. For Palin, it's because ... well ... she's Sarah Palin. And for Huckabee, it's because it looks as if he and Palin might hurt each other if they get into the same race. Both are sending signals that they are inching toward running for president, but it doesn't appear to be a done deal for either of them yet. Both would be formidable in their own right, but do they kneecap each other?

Who leads the Republican National Committee?

The only race more wide open than the GOP presidential primaries might be the race to see who leads the party during the ensuing presidential campaign. Current Chairman Michael Steele is running for reelection but looks to be a long shot. Keep an eye on Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis and former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner. This race is among the hardest to handicap (our attempt is here), though, so expect the unexpected next month when the 168-member RNC picks its new leader.

What path does John Boehner take?

The soon-to-be-House Speaker comes into the job with a reputation both for being a deal maker and for his stubborn opposition to Obama's agenda. The opposition tack got him where he is currently, but the expectations are different now that he's in the majority. At the same time, we saw him bristle in a recent "60 Minutes" interview when it was suggested that he might compromise. Working with Obama risks legitimizing the president with independent voters, but continuing to stand resolutely against everything Obama desires could risk turning voters off to the GOP. It's a balancing act that will depend largely on Obama's popularity.

Does Rep. Michele Bachmann step forward?

The Minnesota Republican's aborted attempt at running for the House GOP leadership showed Bachmann is indeed upwardly mobile, and even though she didn't gain much traction, she has a base of support that should not be underestimated. So where does she go from here? She could be a key voice leading the House Tea Party caucus, or she could turn her attention and fundraising prowess to a Senate run. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is up for reelection in 2012, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is up in 2014. Many have pegged Bachmann as the next Palin, but at some point she needs to be more than just a back-bencher in the House.

Does an immigration overhaul get done?

Obama continues to say that he will take up immigration reform, but it's a tough issue to massage -- especially when you are worried about an impending reelection fight. To understand how difficult it is, just look at the Democrats' inability to pass the DREAM Act in the lame duck session or the GOP's attempt at comprehensive reform in 2006. Republicans are basically salivating at the prospect of Obama and the Democrats taking their shot. Think the health care fight, except with the prospect of turning off a growing Hispanic constituency in the Democratic Party.

What happens with the health care lawsuits?

For all their talk about repealing the health care law, it is highly unlikely Republicans will be able to accomplish that any time in the near future. Their best bet right now is to hope for a win in the courts, where people like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) are making some headway toward getting the "individual mandate" portion of the bill -- the requirement that people get health insurance -- struck down. If such a major Democratic bill is found to be unconstitutional, that hurts Obama and his party.

How does Mitt Romney deal with the health care issue?

The former Massachusetts governor is looking like a potential frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. But there's one big question mark looming over him: how does he explain his efforts as governor to institute what many see as a health care bill similar to the one Congress passed? Romney hasn't dealt with this in-depth because he hasn't had to, but he will -- especially if he starts out-raising and out-polling the other presidential contenders. Romney did a lot of explaining during his 2008 presidential bid (think abortion); let's see if he can put this issue behind him early.

How aggressive does the GOP get in redistricting?

Republicans have lots of power when it comes to the decennial drawing of new congressional districts (a.k.a. redistricting), but as we've discussed before, they are also pretty maxed out in a lot of states and could have a hard time creating new districts that are winnable. Do Republicans focus on just shoring up their current members, or do they draw more aggressive districts? The latter risks lawsuits and raises the possibility that many current GOPers could eventually lose.

By Aaron Blake  | December 29, 2010; 2:44 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012, Health Care, House, Politics and the Court, Redistricting, Republican Party, Supreme Court  
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