Top Up-and-Comers for Democrats and Republicans

Everyone's talking about 2016 contenders, but what pols are on the farm team?

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Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Ted Cruz speaks to the Spring Branch Republican Club Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Houston. Cruz is running against Democrat Paul Sadler to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Ted Cruz speaks to the Spring Branch Republican Club Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Houston. Cruz is running against Democrat Paul Sadler to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

As the dust from the 2012 campaign settles, the political class is already chattering about 2016 presidential contenders. But beyond the names that rose to the top during the most recent election cycle lies a crop of farm team politicians ready for the Bigs. Here's a rundown of Democrats and Republicans who are on the verge of getting drafted into the starting line-up.

[Related: Who Won, Who Lost on Election Day]


Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz

Cruz, who is of Cuban descent, represents the enduring power of the Tea Party, bumping off a Rick Perry-backed rival in his GOP Texas Senate primary based on their grassroots support. His conservative bona fides, combined with his Latino heritage, and rags-to-riches story makes him a bright star in a party grappling with how to expand its appeal without compromising its conservative principles. Cruz's political chops are apparent, though may not be quite as polished as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, with whom he will inevitably be compared. [Debate Club: Is Occupy Wall Street the Next Tea Party?]

Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love

Love may have lost her congressional race in Utah, but the Saratoga Springs mayor has catapulted onto the national scene with a high-profile speech at the Republican National Convention. And as an African-American conservative woman who is also a Mormon, her diversity is much sought after by the stale GOP. With her message of personal responsibility and ease in front of crowds and cameras, the 36-year-old will definitely have a role to play in helping shape the future of her party.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

The first Hispanic woman governor in the history of the United States, Martinez enjoys wild popularity in deep blue New Mexico despite her GOP label. Her brand of compassionate conservatism, paired with her attractive demographic qualities, is just what Republicans need to harness if they want to expand the electoral playing field in the ever-more Hispanic West. Martinez had her national debut at the RNC and wowed many who had just heard her name floated as a potential vice presidential pick for nominee Mitt Romney but had never seen her speak. Washington Rep. Cathie McMorris Rodgers

Rodgers, a low-profile House member, was a loyal surrogate for Romney during his 2012 presidential bid, often manning conference calls with reporters to defend him against Democratic charges his policies were "anti-woman." Early on, she was mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for him as well. In the wake of the election, Rodgers' star continued to rise as she beat out a Paul Ryan-backed rival for the fourth highest GOP House leadership spot.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Walker, first elected in the GOP 2010 wave, made some aggressive anti-union moves in working to balance his state's budget that were so wildly unpopular with Democrats, some senators fled the state to prevent votes accepting the changes. Eventually they returned and Walker won his way, but not before attracting national attention and massive protests. Democrats tried to build on the controversy by initiating a recall election, but by the time the election rolled around, more Wisconsinites voted to retain Walker than had originally cast ballots for him in 2010. His victory has been hailed by national conservatives as "Governing 101."


Newark Mayor Cory Booker

There's really no doubt Booker, a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, is headed to the top of the Democratic Party. As Newark's third African American mayor, he's created headlines for dashing into a burning building to rescue residents and most recently for pledging to live off food stamps for a week to show solidarity for those in need. Booker also has a flare for entertainment, pairing up with equally flamboyant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, in spoof YouTube videos. [Enjoy: The U.S. News Collection of Political Cartoons]

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro

Castro, a 37-year-old Mexican American, is the Democrats' own rising star who can speak personally to the American Dream. In his high-profile address to the Democratic National Convention, he highlighted the importance of education —and the disparity in opportunity and access to a quality one—in any American's chance at getting ahead. His youthfulness, enthusiasm for politics, and full-throated support for party principles means he's ready to shine.

Illinois Representative-Elect Tammy Duckworth

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who was disabled in combat, brings with her to Congress an incredible back story. But the Asian-American combat vet also brings experience—having served in the Obama administration in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Her moving, patriotic background and down-to-earth approach to governing make her ripe for higher office. Sandra Fluke

Fluke flew onto the national political scene after getting called a "slut" by Rush Limbaugh after she was denied the right to testify before a House committee hearing on access to contraception. The Georgetown University law student was an instant hit with Democrats, who held her up as an example of the GOP's so-called War on Women. Fluke has embraced her political celebrity and was even given a speaking role at the Democratic convention. Kamala Harris

Harris is currently the attorney general of California, but she's got a natural political presence and many champions in the Democratic hierarchy that's been eyeing her potential for years. Her tough-on-crime reputation, paired with her focus on reducing recidivism, gives her unique footing in the Democratic Party. And her African- and Asian-American roots help further diversify the already diverse face of Democrats' future.

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  • Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at