GOP’s ris­ing stars point to fu­ture

Up-and-com­ers of­fer hope for Repub­li­cans

The Washington Times Weekly - - Cover Story - BY SEAN LENGELL

When Vir­ginia Rep. Eric Can­tor ad­dressed an au­di­ence at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion four years ago, the set­ting was a midafter­noon ice cream re­cep­tion — and he wasn’t even the main speaker.

When Sen. John Thune took the podium at the 2004 Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, the South Dakotan, who was out of pol­i­tics and run­ning against pow­er­ful Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Tom Daschle, was lim­ited to a 10-sen­tence min­is­peech.

Four years later, th­ese young, charis­matic law­mak­ers — both of whom had been men­tioned as pos­si­ble run­ning mates for Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Sen. John McCain — are among a new crop of party up-and-com­ers ex­pected to play prom­i­nent party roles in the fu­ture, start­ing with the na­tional con­ven­tion, which starts Sept. 1 in St. Paul.

“Our ranks are ripe with ris­ing stars,” said Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee spokesman Alex Co­nant. “Any­one looking at the Repub­li­can Party’s long-term prospects should be en­cour­aged that we have so many young leaders who have al­ready ac­com­plished more” than Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Sen. Barack Obama.

Mr. Can­tor, 45, has risen steadily through the party’s ranks since he was first elected to Congress in 2000. He has ag­gres­sively at­tacked Demo­cratic leaders and has been a staunch de­fender of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, and his loy­alty and am­bi­tion were re­warded in 2002 when he was cho­sen as House Repub­li­can chief deputy whip.

The Vir­ginian, the only Jewish Repub­li­can in the House, has used his lead­er­ship po­si­tion to in­crease his pro­file on Capi­tol Hill since his party lost con­trol of the cham­ber to Democrats in Jan­uary 2007. He is a fre­quent guest on tele­vi­sion news shows and is con­sid­ered a fron­trun­ner to re­place Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio one day as House party leader.

“Eric Can­tor´s lead­er­ship skills have right­fully earned him an im­mense amount of re­spect not only from Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill, but also from the po­lit­i­cal pun­dit class, who see him as a po­ten­tial Se­nate, gu­ber­na­to­rial or even vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date,” said Ken Spain, spokesman with the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee.

Mr. Thune, 47, be­came an in­stant hero among con­ser­va­tives in Novem­ber 2004 when he knocked off Mr. Daschle.

With his rangy stature, good looks and friendly, ar­tic­u­late de­meanor, Mr. Thune is viewed as a nat­u­ral choice for fu­ture party lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

“For his first cou­ple of years, he was the ‘knight in shin­ing ar­mor’ who took down Daschle, but I think he’s start­ing to rise above that, ab­so­lutely,” said Re­becca Fisher, spokes­woman with the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee.

He also is a mem­ber of the Se­nate’s Gang of 10, a coali­tion of five Repub­li­cans and five Democrats who re­cently drafted a sweep­ing en­ergy com­pro­mise de­signed to lower the cost of gaso­line, a plan that in­cludes ex­pand­ing off­shore drilling and in­creas­ing de­vel­op­ment of re­new­able fuel sources.

“Peo­ple do look up to him,” Mrs. Fisher said. “He is a fig­ure who has risen cer­tainly to be a na­tional fig­ure, and we’re very happy to have him on our side.”

An­other young Repub­li­can with skyis-the-limit po­lit­i­cal po­ten­tial is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal. Af­ter serv­ing less than two terms in the House, he was elected gov­er­nor in 2007, be­com­ing the first non­white to hold the of­fice since Re­con­struc­tion and the first elected In­dian-Amer­i­can gov­er­nor in U.S. his­tory.

He was first elected to the House in 2004 at age 33 and im­me­di­ately was elected class pres­i­dent, high­light­ing the scope of his po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions as well as his in­flu­ence among his col­leagues.

“From the day he ar­rived on Capi­tol Hill, Repub­li­cans knew that Bobby Jin­dal was go­ing places,” Mr. Spain said.

Mr. Jin­dal, also men­tioned as a po­ten­tial McCain run­ning mate, is a dar­ling of the con­ser­va­tive right. While he was in the House, the Na­tional Right to Life Com­mit­tee gave him a 100 per­cent pro-life vot­ing record, and he op­poses em­bry­onic stem re­search and voted to make the Patriot Act per­ma­nent.

Other GOP ris­ing stars with po­ten­tial to shine brightly on the na­tional po­lit­i­cal scene in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture in­clude:

Florida Gov. Char­lie Crist. The pop­u­lar first-term gov­er­nor has par­tic­i­pated in Sun­shine State pol­i­tics since the early 1990s, hav­ing served as at­tor­ney gen­eral, ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner and state se­na­tor. A po­lit­i­cal moderate, he bro­kered one of the big­gest con­ser­va­tion deals in U.S. his­tory this year when he per­suaded U.S. Su­gar Corp. to sell nearly 300 square miles of land it owns in the Ever­glades to the state. How­ever, Mr. Crist, 52, also is so­cially con­ser­va­tive on many is­sues — he is a long­time ad­vo­cate of the death penalty and has op­posed rev­ers­ing the state’s ban on al­low­ing gays and les­bians to adopt chil­dren.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She be­came the youngest gov­er­nor in Alaska’s his­tory when she was first elected in 2006 at age 42. She is wildly pop­u­lar in her state, with ap­proval rat­ings reg­u­larly top­ping 80 per­cent. Her back­ground as a gov­ern­ment re­former and a fis­cal and so­cial con­ser­va­tive has led to her be­ing men­tioned as a pos­si­ble vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. She helped steer leg­is­la­tion last year to build a nat- ural gas pipe­line from the state’s North Slope, and she signed a bill in May to pro­vide $250 mil­lion dur­ing the next five years for re­new­able en­ergy projects.

Min­nesota Gov. Tim Paw­lenty. His ap­proval rat­ings aren’t al­ways stel­lar — usu­ally hov­er­ing around 50 per­cent — and he was re-elected in 2006 with just 47 per­cent of the vote. How­ever, his blue-col­lar ap­peal, staunch so­cially and fis­cally con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions, his rel­a­tively young age (47) and early sup­port of Mr. McCain’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign make him a Repub­li­can to watch. Mr. Paw­lenty has served as the chair­man of the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion in 2007 and 2008. Syndicated colum­nist Robert D. No­vak has called Mr. Paw­lenty the “most con­ser­va­tive Min­nesota gov­er­nor since Theodore ‘Tight­wad Ted’ Christianson in the 1920s.”

Wis­con­sin Rep. Paul D. Ryan. Just 38, Mr. Ryan al­ready is serv­ing his fifth term in the House. He is the rank­ing mem­ber of the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee and is a mem­ber of the pow­er­ful Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. “Paul Ryan has a mind for fis­cal pol­icy that very few can match, with a rare abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate it,” said Mr. Spain.

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