I have enjoyed the recent top ten lists for Republican leaders, Senate races, and the like published by smart observers like Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post and have occasionally ventured forth my own. Most of us who pay any attention to politics have a pretty good sense of the most influential Republican leaders today; and they include impressive people such as Romney, Pawlenty, Barbour, McConnell, Boehner, Gingrich, Palin, and others.
Less visible, however, and in some ways more intriguing to me are identifying those less visible figures who will emerge over the next five to ten years as leaders in the House, Senate, state capitols, and Presidential primaries. Here is my crack at the top ten, most under 50 and a few just past that age.
There are undoubtedly others that should be included, but whom I haven’t had the opportunity to meet, and thus haven’t assessed. Here are the ones I have:
- Bob McDonnell. I predicted many months ago that Bob would be the next Governor of Virginia and that prediction looks very good now. For that reason he is included near the top of the most influential Republicans for the present as well as the future. He has been an enormously effective candidate and I believe will be elected next week. While he will be a great Governor for my home state, his national influence will soar as the first symbol of a Republican comeback and as an example of how to run a model and winning campaign.
- Mark Kirk. Mark is the moderate, progressive, and effective young Congressman from Illinois who should be elected to Obama’s old Senate seat in November 2010. Illinois has been a blue state for a number of years and has a pronounced registration advantage in favor of Democrats. Because he will capture the Obama seat in a blue state, and because his voice is both persuasive and moderate, he will emerge as an influential consensus builder in the U.S. Senate.
- Eric Cantor. As the #2 Republican in the House and a master of policy, Eric has been a strong and sensible voice for the center-right arguments that represent the Republican Party and the majority of Americans. He will have an increasingly important role in shaping the Republican agenda for many years.
- Scott Walker. The 41 year old Milwaukee County Executive has proven he knows how to contain costs, balance budgets, and win elections. In 2008, he won re-election with 59%, in a county Obama won by more than 60%. I believe he will be elected Governor of Wisconsin in November 2010 and represent the new wave of conservative leadership that knows how to bring needed services to the people by providing incentives and ingenuity vs. big spending.
- Paul Ryan. Another young man from Wisconsin, who at 39 is ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. He has mastery of budgeting and economic issues and learned his trade at the foot of the late Jack Kemp, perhaps the most influential Republican of our era who never became President. Paul is smart, charismatic, and dedicated and can hold any office he sets his mind to.
- Rob Portman. Rob has a tough challenge on winning the Ohio Senate race as the State has been tilting blue lately. However, he’s just too good to fail. As a former Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and Special Trade Representative, he has a terrific background to blend with his intellect and charm. He will immediately emerge as a leading voice in the Senate and in the future will be on everyone’s list for the big one or number two.
- Bobby Jindal. Bobby has proven himself at everything he has done, consistently taking on and meeting great challenges. He is developing into an articulate and charismatic leader whose future holds no bounds. He is a fine Governor for Louisiana and will continue to be a major policy voice in the Republican Party.
- Meg Whitman. Meg has a long road ahead to first win the primary in California and then defeat Jerry Brown to become Governor. Then, of course, she will have the tough challenge of fixing California. However, she is enormously talented and competent, and I believe she will win. If so, she will vault to number one overall, as the most influential and sought after leader in the Republican Party.
- Kelly Ayotte. The young and proven Attorney General of New Hampshire is poised to win this Senate seat next year. She has the friendly and reasonable comportment of an Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins but is more center right in her philosophy and thus better positioned for future leadership.
- Chris Christie. I am hopeful Chris will be elected Governor of New Jersey next week. However, his victory will be more a referendum on Jon Corzines’s out of control spending, high taxes and ineffective governance, all awash in a sea of corruption in the NJ Democrat Party. Nevertheless, a victory in this blue state will give Chris a commanding platform.
There are three others who should be on the list, but I’m not sure where or how to place them:
- Sarah Palin. Charismatic, effective, and beloved by so many in the Republican Party. Since I know her reasonably well and like her a lot, people always ask me about her future plans. The answer is I have no idea, and my sense is she hasn’t ruled anything out and is truly undecided. Maybe her book next month will provide some clues.
- Marco Rubio. We desperately need in our own party a young Hispanic leader. We cannot again be a majority party without better understanding and appealing to minorities, especially Hispanics. As a former speaker of the House in Florida, Mark is an attractive and charismatic, conservative voice. The problem is he has nowhere to go right now. He is unlikely to defeat Charlie Crist in the Florida primary for the U.S. Senate but could be poised to win the subsequent Senate contest against Bill Nelson.
- Jon Huntsman, Jr. Jon has gone far away and so is out of mind. However, he was an effective deputy special trade representative, and effective Ambassador to Singapore, and a super Governor of Utah. Plus, he has the charm, dedication, financial resources, and great family to ensure he will be back and be a powerful player on the national stage.
There you have it–please let me know your reactions to these names and help me evolve my thinking.