Independent voters. The single biggest factor in the GOP's midterm success was the nearly 20-point swing away from Democrats among independent voters. Both parties will watch how their policies this year play with independents—from deficit reduction to hot-button social issues—because they know that this increasingly organized voting group holds the key to 2012.
Susana Martinez. She's the nation's first female Hispanic governor, replacing term-limited Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Martinez is a former prosecutor whose campaign ads featured her standing on the border calling for tougher enforcement of immigration laws. Her challenge is to change the GOP's message from anti-illegal immigrant to pro-legal immigration, something the party badly needs if it wants to build a conservative Hispanic coalition by 2012. [See editorial cartoons about immigration.]
Jon Stewart. Officially he's a comedian, but he's fast becoming a political trendsetter, given the number of people who get their first take on news from him. Consider that his shining the spotlight this month on the 9/11 responders healthcare bill helped get it passed. For that, the New York Times compared him to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, whose on-air editorializing turned the public against McCarthyism and the Vietnam War. The smart money says he's not going away anytime soon. And it'll be entertaining to watch along with him what 2011 holds for politics.