Chris Cillizza from The Fix at the Washington Post has compiled a solid list of GOP rising stars to watch in 2012.
– Polymath 3
Steve Poizner: Poizner, the Insurance Commissioner of California, has an early head-start on being the Republican nominee for governor in 2010. And, if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) decides not to run, Poizner’s ability to self-fund a campaign coupled with his relatively short time in elected office and his outsider message could make him viable in the general election. As California goes, so goes the country.
Haley Barbour: There are those who mention Barbour’s name for the 2012 GOP nomination. We are decidedly skeptical about that — will the country be ready for a man who had a hand in inventing modern-day lobbying in Washington? — but Barbour is clearly someone to watch. Remember that before he became governor of Mississippi in 2003, Barbour was one of the leading political operatives in the country and has tentacles (and acolytes) all over the country. That makes him a force to be reckoned with.
Jon Huntsman Jr.: As The Fix was waiting to meet with Huntsman on Thursday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was touting him as a rising star in Republican politics. Nice convergence. Huntsman won re-election earlier this month with 78 percent (granted it was in ruby red Utah) and has the looks and re&eaccute;sum&eaccute; — fluent in Chinese, progressive on the environment — that could make him appealing for a party looking desperately for a different profile. Huntsman is a Mormon, however, and, as Mitt Romney demonstrated earlier this year, that could be a major problem if he decides to run for president.
Eric Cantor: The Virginia Republican’s unfettered rise through the ranks of House leadership continued earlier this week when he was elected Minority Whip — the second ranking position within the GOP. Cantor was among those vetted in John McCain’s vice presidential search and his personal background — a Jewish Republican — will be intriguing for many within the party looking for something new. Cantor’s problem: Is the House too small a perch from which to become a national figure?
Mark Sanford: South Carolina’s Sanford is the newly elected chair of the Republican Governors Association, a useful job through which to raise one’s national profile. Since McCain’s loss earlier this month, Sanford has been a leading voice for the party to return to the principles of former President Ronald Reagan; “Some on the left will say our electoral losses are a repudiation of our principles of lower taxes, smaller government and individual liberty,” wrote Sanford in an op-ed piece for CNN.com. “But Tuesday was not in fact a rejection of those principles — it was a rejection of Republicans’ failure to live up to those principles.” Sanford’s reform credentials are impeccable but he has, throughout his career, rubbed the party establishment wrong, which could hurt him as he seeks a broader role.
Bob McDonnell: McDonnell, Virginia’s attorney general, will be the Republican standard-bearer in the Commonwealth’s gubernatorial race in 2009. Off-year statewide elections are always looked to by the two parties as litmus tests for how each side is doing, and the fact that this campaign will take place in the purple state of Virginia makes McDonnell all the more important. If he wins, it will be seen as a sign that the Republican party is alive and well and living in Virginia. If he loses, he’ll join the Jerry Kilgore Hall of Fame.
Mitch Daniels: Even as Obama was pulling off a stunning win in the Hoosier State at the presidential level, Daniels was cruising to reelection by 18 points. At the end of the campaign, Daniels pledged in a television ad that he would never run for another office but even if he stays true to his word, his experience in 2008 makes him a valuable commodity for Republicans. While Daniels’s ties to George W. Bush won’t help him — he served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2003 — his electoral success in a critical Midwest battleground means Daniels has a seat at the table.
Mitt Romney: Discount the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate at your own peril. Romney has three big things going for him: he is, by almost anyone’s account, an expert on the American economy; he is incredibly ambitious and will work harder than almost anyone to make sure his voice is heard; and he has immense personal wealth and a willingness to spend it. Do his flip-flops on social issues (and his Mormonism) still make social conservatives queasy? You bet. But Romney is in the mix and will aim to stay there.
John Thune: The South Dakota Senator is incredibly well positioned to emerge as the telegenic voice of the Obama opposition. Thune is part of a group of young and aggressive Republican senators who will look to take the fight to Obama and Senate Democrats over the next two years. It doesn’t hurt Thune that he is already a revered figure among conservatives after ousting former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004. Thune’s problem is that conventional wisdom within the party already seems to be settling on the idea that the GOP governors need to lead Republicans out of the wilderness in which they currently find themselves.
Bobby Jindal: There is NO hotter commodity in the Republican party these days than Jindal. Jindal is the rare candidate who both reformers and establishment types find appealing, and as a 37-year-old Indian American he is — literally and figuratively — the sort of new face the party is pining for. While Jindal is hot right now, it’s important to remember that he is the governor of a state with a complex political scene — meaning there will be myriad opportunities for Jindal to falter over the next few months and years.