Among conservatives, this election seems to be the subject of a lot of “most-important-election-of-our-lifetime” talk. Everyone has his or her reason why. It represents the opportunity to slam the brakes on government spending. It’s a chance to rebuke the president for lack of focus on the economy. The winner gets to control a crucial round of redistricting.
Lost amid the punditry and hyperbole (are those synonymous at this point?) is another reason these elections carry historical importance--the ability to establish a deep bench. This is especially important considering the apparent paradigm shift amongst the electorate. Concern over the national debt and government spending was one of the key voting issues in 2010. Moreover, a glance at the long-term budget outlook and it is easy to see that this is a problem that is not going away anytime soon.
This year’s winners will benefit from having a clean slate, free of earmarks, pork barrel politics, and votes on big-spending bills. They were sent to Congress with an explicit purpose--to stop the growth of Washington and its list of IOUs. Should they succeed they will have the opportunity to be the some of the leading voices in a Republican Party that has long suffered from a weak bench of potential leaders.
What names should you keep an eye on? Here are five newly elected Republicans who have the charisma, intelligence, and drive to succeed in the new voting paradigm:
Marco Rubio, Florida senator-elect. Already labeled by some as the “Cuban Barack Obama,” Rubio has risen from Senate race afterthought to “the great right hope” in a little under a year. His ability to articulate a desire for a smaller government that lives within its means has won the support of Tea Partyers and moderates alike. Moreover, his Cuban heritage has allowed him to redefine the Republican Party’s relationship with a Hispanic voting bloc that will become increasingly important in future elections.
Kristi Noem (South Dakota, At Large). While it may not be as impressive as the “Cuban Obama,” Noem has been graced with the title “South Dakota’s Sarah Palin.” If her fundraising prowess is any indication, they may be right. By closely allying herself with popular Sen. John Thune she was able to raise more money this cycle than any other Republican House challenger. But it was her down home approach (she had to sell hundreds of her ranch’s cattle to fund her campaign) coupled with keen political instincts that allowed her to topple Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a rising star in her own right. More than just a flash in the pan, her “draw a line in the sand” approach to cutting our deficit should make her a conservative favorite in the future. [See where Thune gets his campaign money.]
Sean Duffy (Wisconsin's 7th District). Congress’s first reality TV star. Although he may be known by my generation as the candidate from MTV’s Real World, that shouldn’t be used to imply he doesn’t have substance. On the campaign trail he displayed a dynamic public persona that seemed less confrontational than the Tea Party yet just as effective at communicating a small-government message. His campaign advertisements, playing off his history as a world champion competitive lumberjack and promising to “bring the ax to Washington,” went viral. But a look beyond the plaid-attired caricature and it’s clear that he has a deep understanding of the debt and deficit problems facing this country. A young, good-looking congressman that speaks intelligently on the issues? Yes please.
Tim Scott (South Carolina's 1st District). Scott and Florida’s Allen West represent the first black Republicans in Congress since J.C. Watts retired in 2003. Sensing his potential, Scott was one of three freshman representatives to be named to the 22-member transition team that will be responsible for drafting the rules by which the House will operate once the Republican majority take their seats. He comes to Washington as a quiet figure with a purpose. He has reportedly refused most national interview requests, eschewing the spotlight in favor of making sure he’s putting in the work necessary to help get the nation back on track. “[I’m in public office because] someone paid it forward, and now it is my opportunity to pay it forward,” Scott said. In a town where selfless and quiet politicians are the exception, expect Scott to stand out.
Adam Kinzinger (Illinois's 11th District). Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who has flown missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, received the Valley Forge Cross for Heroism, has been awarded the United States Air Force Airmen’s Medal, and has been named the Wisconsin Red Cross’s “Hero of the Year” award, is, needless to say, an impressive guy. Before stepping foot in D.C. he had already received another prize--he is a handpicked representative to the U.S. House transition team. On the issues he falls in line with the majority of conservative candidates this election season--he wants to reduce spending, pare down healthcare reform, and remove the Washington impediment to free market capitalism--but it is his charisma that sets him apart. As the National Review has said, “[k]eep your eye on this kid.”
The Republican wave of 2010 will have an immediate and visible impact on Washington. Hopefully the historic victory will translate into an economy trending upward and deficit trending downward. But perhaps the most lasting impact of these elections will have been providing a formal introduction to a new wave of young conservative leaders. It will be up to them to fulfill their potential, but potential is something that the Republican bench has been sorely lacking.