It's no surprise that the presidential election will be the dominant story line in 2012. However, as voters decide on which candidate to support, they'll be watching Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court and Wall Street just as closely as the campaign trail. At the same time, the Republican Party is braced for a lengthy nomination fight, while the the Democrats must rally behind the president.
Will the economy get back on track?
The U.S. economy has been growing at a snail's pace for the past 21/2 years. However, 2011 ended on a positive note, as the unemployment rate fell to 8.6% in November. But President Barack Obama needs other signs that the economy has turned the corner or he'll be an easy target for Republican attacks during the presidential campaign.
Will Supreme Court rulings impact the election?
The Supreme Court is set to rule on two landmark cases in 2012, both of which have the potential to give Obama momentum in his re-election bid - or deal his campaign a significant blow. The justices will listen to arguments for and against provisions in Obama's health care reform law in March, as well as consider whether Arizona's immigration law - which Obama opposes - should be upheld.
Can Congress work together on the budget?
Americans' frustration with their lawmakers may be at an all-time high after Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a deficit-reduction plan in 2011, nearly causing the government to default on its debts and bringing Washington to the brink of a shutdown three times. The partisan brinkmanship could grow even more intense as the elections near, but how much gridlock can the country stand?
Can the Democrats come together to re-elect their leader?
To some extent, Obama's Democratic base has already become fractured, driven apart by anger at the president's perceived weaknesses - including the sense that he capitulated to Republicans on the deficit-reduction plan, among other issues. Obama will have to rally his base and bring the party together if he is to retain the White House for a second term.
Which Republican will take on Barack Obama for the presidency?
The Republican presidential primary campaign has been a merry-go-round from the start. As we enter the new year, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sit atop most national polls, while Rep. Ron Paul of Texas appears to be the latest candidate making a surge. The Iowa Republican caucus kicks off the formal nominating process on Jan. 3.