10 Republicans to Watch in 2010

From Joe Scarborough to Sarah Palin.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Who do you think are the 10 most interesting people to keep an eye on in 2010? I'll give you my top 10 list of interesting Republicans to watch, and you can come up with your own list and leave your suggestions in the comments section.

1. Meg Whitman. The California gubernatorial race will be one of next year's most fascinating. Whitman is a political newcomer. She's the billionaire former CEO of eBay, and she worked under Mitt Romney at Bain and Co. and was an adviser to the McCain campaign. But she has never run for office before. A social moderate who believes in creating jobs, cutting spending, and fixing the schools, she is running behind in the polls to Jerry Brown. Yes, that Jerry Brown. While Whitman holds a 20-point advantage over her GOP primary opponents in the latest poll, she trails former "Governor Moonbeam," who is now state attorney general, by only 6 percentage points in a heavily Democratic state. Now, that's a fun time for Republicans.

2. Mitch Daniels. The governor of Indiana was re-elected by 18 percentage points last November, even as a Democratic presidential candidate won the state for the first time in 40 years. A former head of the Office of Management and Budget for President George W. Bush, Daniels inherited a state budget deficit and turned it into a surplus. As a result, he enjoys job approval ratings of about 70 percent. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review says of Daniels: "He's a Reaganite who is not trapped in 1980s nostalgia; he's a fiscal conservative who believes not just in limiting government but in reforming it to address people's everyday concerns; he's a politician of principle who refuses to sell his program in off-puttingly partisan or ideological terms." Sign me up.

3. Bob McDonnell. The man who ran the best campaign in the country in the fall will soon be sworn in as governor of Virginia. Can he actually run the state the way he campaigned? A lot of moderates and conservatives are keeping their fingers crossed.

4. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Her March 2 primary challenge to incumbent Texas governor Rick Perry is looming large and promises to be a social (he) versus fiscal (she) conservative showdown. Despite the fact that Hutchison has been the leading conservative woman in the Senate for years, Perry is hitting her hard as too liberal and too much of a Washington insider. He has Sarah Palin on his side; she has Dick Cheney.

5. Joe Scarborough. The cohost of the MSNBC show Morning Joe, which has a cult following here in Washington, Scarborough is a former congressman from Pensacola, Fla., who was elected in 1994 and served until 2001. He's a libertarian-conservative and good in front of the camera. Like Mike Huckabee on Fox, Scarborough seems to enjoy a good back-and-forth with liberals rather than preaching to his own side—unusual these days. Plus, he's just a fun guy to watch. There are rumors he'll run for president in 2012, which he's clearly enjoying.

6. Jenny Sanford. One of Barbara Walters's "10 Most Fascinating People of 2009," Sanford is not going to fade away in 2010. The wife of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, she's become known as a woman who gracefully chose not to stand by her man when he announced his infidelity. Her book, Staying True, will be published in April, and she's launched a personal website as well. A former investment banker, Sanford says she's not interested in running for office, but she endorsed a Republican woman to replace her husband, and she was known as the brains behind his political career. I bet there are a lot of women rooting for her to enter politics.

7. Haley Barbour. My former boss at the Republican National Committee and current head of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour is in his second term as governor of Mississippi. He won kudos for his handling of Hurricane Katrina damage in his state. Now he's the wise man of the Republican Party whose folksy charm and great sense of humor belie his cunning political instincts. There are plenty of rumors that he, too, will run for president, but I'll bet he'd prefer to be the go-to guy for the GOP for a few more years.

8. Michele Bachmann. The public face of the tea partyers, the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota is often made fun of in the media for some of her incendiary statements. Can she turn it around and be taken more seriously in 2010 by Washington types—or would she rather not be? Is she crazy like a fox?

9. Michael Steele. The Republican National Committee is slated to vote at its January meeting on the "purity test" resolution, which Steele has opposed publicly. How that vote goes will be a test of his leadership, as will his handling of the tea partyers, with whom he seems to have a love-hate relationship. Can he unify the party on both counts before the November elections?

10. And finally, my list would not be complete without Sarah Palin. She has sold a million-plus copies of Going Rogue, her favorability rating is up in the latest Gallup Poll, and she continues to be one of the most polarizing figures in U.S. politics. She's someone everyone will be keeping an eye on in 2010—like it or not.

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