Though the Republican Party took a beating in the recent election, there are rays of hope for the future. Some of the brightest are the Young Guns of conservatism, a group of rising political stars who have the opportunity to pick up the pieces of the GOP and provide the leadership needed to return the party to its Reagan roots. Here are eleven of the most prominent conservative Young Guns:Sarah Palin (44) - Alaska's Governor has made it though the initiation phase of national politics thanks to having been named John McCain's running mate. Though her star doesn't shine quite so brightly now that the campaign is over (her once stellar 80%+ approval rating in Alaska is down in the mid-60s, still very positive), she made history by being the first woman to have been nominated as the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate. She has proven herself to be tough enough, taking all the abuse the Democrats, the drive-by media, the pundits and even some of her running mate's staffers could dish out and still remain standing. In fact, Palin has done little complaining about the attacks, showing that she can weather them with remarkable grace, charm and good humor (except for the inexcusable attacks on her children, which understandably angered her). She also endured two ethics investigations in her home state, both politically motivated, and still managed to emerge from the ordeal looking good. Palin was a success on the campaign trail, drawing large, enthusiastic crowds which far surpassed those seen at Joe Biden's events or even John McCain's. She has returned to Alaska to deal with the affairs of that energy-producing state. Palin will build her resume by completing the gas pipeline deal, and she will study up on foreign affairs and other issues she will need to be able to expound upon if she wants to make a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. She also needs to build her own networks, including perhaps a PAC and a campaign organization that must be ready to hit the ground running. Palin has been invited to speak at CPAC 2009.
Bobby Jindal (37) - The chief executive of Louisiana has made some history of his own as the youngest sitting governor of the United States. He won the job after serving three years in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was a member of the conservative RSC caucus. Jindal also served in the Bush administration as the principal policy advisor to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. An Indian-American Catholic, Jindal took his name out of contention for consideration as a potential GOP vice presidential nominee for the 2008 election, choosing to build his own resume instead. He will also be a speaker at CPAC in February. (Lifetime ACU rating: 93.33)
Michael Steele (50) - This former lieutenant governor of Maryland is also a history-maker. He was not only the first Republican to serve as lieutenant governor of his state, but also the first African American to do so. A Catholic, Steele studied for the priesthood before getting a law degree from Georgetown. He has experience as a corporate securities associate at Cleary's offices in Washington, D.C., Tokyo and London. After working for Cleary, he established Steele Group, a business and legal consulting firm. Steele has served as chairman of the Prince George's County Republican Central Committee, as chairman of the Maryland Republican Party and chair of GOPAC, his current job. He delivered memorable speeches at the 2004 and 2008 GOP conventions, at the latter coining the phrase, "Drill baby, drill" - a reference to the need for offshore drilling which became a familiar chant at McCain and Palin campaign rallies.
Eric Cantor (45) - A three-term U.S. congressman from Virginia, Cantor served nine years in that state's House of Delegates before winning national office. He is currently the House's chief deputy minority whip, but is currently making a run for the position of house minority whip, which Rep. Roy Blunt has announced that he intends to vacate. During his first term in office, Cantor served as Chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and has also served on the House Financial Services Committee, the International Relations Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. Cantor has a law degree and an advanced degree in real estate. He is the only Jewish Republican currently serving in the House. Cantor was on Sen. John McCain's list of potential vice presidential nominees before Sarah Palin was selected. Cantor was the author of the Republican alternative to the first version of the $700 billion economic bailout bill, and he was outspoken in his criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her "tone of partisanship" during negotiations on the final version of the measure. (Lifetime ACU rating: 96.86)
Paul Ryan (38) - Now serving his fifth term representing the 1st congressional district of Wisconsin in the U.S. House, Ryan is the ranking minority member of the House Budget Committee and a senior member on the House Ways and Means Committee. He has a degree in economics and political science and has worked in the private sector as an economic analyst and as president of his own consulting firm. A former legislative director for Sen. Sam Brownback, Ryan also wrote speeches for William Bennett and Jack Kemp. Ryan just won his bid for re-election and will serve a sixth House term. (Lifetime ACU rating: 92.89)
Jeff Flake (46) - Flake has served in the U.S. House since 2001. Prior to that, he served as Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Namibia and as the Executive Director of the Goldwater Institute. Known as one of the more libertarian House Republicans, he is a member of the Liberty Caucus. Flake has earned a reputation as one of the most vocal critics of pork and earmark federal spending. He was designated a "taxpayer superhero" by Citizens Against Government Waste and was named by that group as the least extravagant spender in Congress. A Mormon, Flake is staunchly pro-life. (Lifetime ACU rating: 95.43)
Michelle Bachmann (52) - Bachmann just won a second term in the U.S. House from Minnesota. She is a member of the Financial Services Committee. Backman is a former attorney for the U.S. Treasury Department, and she served two terms in the Minnesota State Senate. A favorite target of Democrats and liberal interest groups for being what they call a "Christian fundamentalist," Bachmann has been active in the pro-life movement. (Lifetime ACU rating: 100)
Mike Pence (47) - A four-term member of the U.S. House from Indiana, Pence serves on two powerful House committees, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary. A former chair of the conservative RSC House caucus, Pence has earned a reputation as a tax-cutter and an opponent of earmark spending. He's also a social conservative who opposed late-term abortion and federal subsidies for embryonic stem cell research. Pence has described himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order." (Lifetime ACU rating: 99.43)
Thad McCotter (43) - McCotter is a U.S. congressman from Michigan. After practicing law, he won a seat as a Wayne County Commissioner in 1992. McCotter was elected to the Michigan State Senate in 1998 and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002, where he has served three terms. He's a member of the House Financial Services Committee and serves as chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee. McCotter was the first GOP House member to oppose the Paulson bailout plan in September, labeling it "American socialism." A Catholic, the most notorious McCotter quote, according to liberals, is "No Good Government Denies God's Presence." He is also a strong supporter of the Iraq War. (Lifetime ACU rating: 87)
Jeb Hensarling (51) - having served in the U.S. House as a representative from Texas, Hensarling has an economics degree from Texas A&M ands a law degree from the University of Texas. He has worked for former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm and as executive director of the Republican Senatorial Committee. An entrepreneur and owner of two small businesses, Hensarling sits on the House Budget and Financial Services Committees. With a reputation as a spending hawk and a proponent of low taxes, Hensarling supports a one-year moratorium on all Congressional earmarks. He is a co-author of the Taxpayer Choice Act and introduced the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in the House. Hensarling has been mentioned as a possible successor to Eric Cantor as House Deputy Minority Whip. (Lifetime ACU rating: 98.33)
Adam Putnam (34) - Putnam was the youngest member of Congress when he was sworn in at the age of 26 in 2001. Now with three terms of House service on his resume, the Florida Representative has held minority leadership positions, chairing the House Republican Policy Committee and the House Republican Conference. He also has a seat on the House Financial Services Committee. Putnam acquired the nickname "The Elder Statesman" because of his rapid rise in the House Republican leadership despite his relatively tender years. (Lifetime ACU rating: 92.29)
Duncan D. Hunter (31) - Sharing his father's name, young Hunter now has his recently retired dad's U.S. House seat for the 52nd District of California as well. Duncan worked his way to a business degree from San Diego State by creating websites and programming databases and e-commerce systems for high tech companies. The day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, Hunter enlisted in the U.S. Marines. After graduating from the Corps' officer candidate school, the newly-commissioned lieutenant served the first of two tours of duty in Iraq. After his return, he was honorably discharged and was promoted to the rank of Captain while in the reserves. Soon after filing to run for Congress, Hunter was recalled to active duty in the Marines and was sent to Afghanistan. He returned to campaigning after his return home and was rewarded with a victory in the 2008 elections.
Here's a video Gator Nick produced featuring some Young Guns: