Inside track: Emmy race for Best Drama Actor — who’s ahead to win?

At the Emmys, it’s almost always about the episode submissions. That was how a rookie contender like Damian Lewis could defeat three-time champ Bryan Cranston last year for Best Drama Actor. Lewis submitted the explosive first season finale (“Marine One”) of “Homeland”  which was 90 minutes long (that’s 30 more than rival submissions) and included a crying scene. Cranston entered a bravura episode of “Breaking Bad” (“Crawl Space”), but he’d finally met his Emmy match.

Lewis and Cranston return to duke it out with one-hour submissions with impressive oomph. They are battling it out for the lead, according to our exclusive odds. 

They compete against repeat nominees Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey“) and Jon Hamm (“Mad Men“), plus newcomers Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom“) and Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards“). Previous perennial contenders Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire“) and Michael C. Hall (“Dexter“) have been kicked out of the race.

For 2013, Lewis looks to be a strong competitor for “Q&A.” In the episode, the CIA — now aware that his character, ex-POW and current Congressman Nicholas Brody, is a traitor — has arrested him and subjects him to a secretive and painful interrogation.

Cranston has submitted the penultimate episode of season 5.1: “Say My Name.” His character, Walter White — a cancer-stricken former professor turned drug kingpin — struggles as the feds get closer to his operation. The episode opens with a powerful showdown with rivals; the ending is a tragic shooting he already regrets. If Cranston prevails yet again, he would tie Dennis Franz (“NYPD Blue”) as the most awarded man in this category, with four wins.

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If he goes down to defeat again, Hamm will be tied for a different kind of record — the most losses in this category (six) — with Hall (“Six Feet Under,” “Dexter”), Hugh Laurie (“House“), and Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”). Hamm’s episode for the Emmy judges is the season finale, “In Care Of.” His character, advertising whiz Don Draper, is on a downward spiral that has led to even more alcohol, possible estrangement from his wife, and a forced leave from his agency.

Bonneville’s character, the Earl of Grantham, is also in dire straits during “Episode 3.5” of his British period piece. His daughter has recently died, mainly due to his insistent reliance on bad information from the wrong doctor. His wife and other family members are highly upset with him, and he suffers the repercussions of their anger.

Spacey is a double Oscar champ and Tony winner who has yet to win an Emmy to his collection. His character is Francis Underwood, a high-ranking U.S. Congressman who always gets his way. He has submitted the pilot episode, “Chapter 1,” in which his underhanded activities are on full display after he is passed over as the next Secretary of State.

Veteran actor Daniels celebrates his first Emmy nomination this year for playing popular and opinionated news anchor Will McAvoy. He has also submitted his pilot episode, “We Just Decided To,” which features an opening rant against everything that is wrong with America and journalism. His show’s creator, Aaron Sorkin, penned Emmy-winning “The West Wing” episodes for Stockard Channing, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, and Bradley Whitford in the past, as well as “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’s” John Goodman.

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