Rising Stars Looking to Revive the GOP Brand

Posted on January 22, 2007

In the majority, House and Senate Republicans often clashed over the legislative agenda and the political realities of each chamber, but in the minority they now face a singular objective over the next two years — to reclaim the majority. Both the House and Senate have new faces in leadership, old bulls on the committees, and a regular band of loyal rank-and-file Members. But in each chamber there are a handful who stand out as ambitious lawmakers who will be players in the new minority, tasked with recapturing the enthusiasm, cultivating new ideas and raising the money needed to re-energize a disillusioned Republican Party. Roll Call takes a look at a handful of GOP House Members and Senators who will bear watching in the coming two years. Senate Republicans Sen. John Cornyn (Texas). Rounding out his first term in the Senate, Cornyn has risen quickly in leadership as the newly elected vice chairman of the Republican Conference. Ambitious and conservative, Cornyn has sought to carve out a role as the GOP’s communications leader and demonstrated a willingness to be the point man on issues such as immigration and judicial nominations. “He’s a lot like ‘Mikey,’” said one senior GOP aide. “Give him an assignment, and he’ll do it.” Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.). DeMint is part of the band of Republicans elected to the Senate in 2004 known as the “magnificent seven.” The former House Member also has started to climb in the Republican ranks, winning election as chairman of the conservative Steering Committee for the 110th Congress. Like Cornyn, DeMint is seen as an up-and-coming party spokesman. “He’s the conscience of the conservative movement,” noted another Senate Republican aide. Sen. John Thune (S.D.). Thune had star power before he arrived in Washington, D.C., in January 2005 after defeating then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in a bitter election. Thune has yet to ascend into the Republicans’ elected leadership, but Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) recently selected him to serve as his Chief Deputy Minority Whip in the 110th Congress. Telegenic and likable, most assume it won’t be long before Thune begins to climb the Republican hierarchy. “It’s the [Sen. Barack] Obama (D-Ill.) principle,” according to the senior GOP aide. “He invites attention. He’s smooth and accomplished.” Sen. John Ensign (Nev.). Re-elected in November to serve a second term in the Senate, Ensign has taken on the difficult task of chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2008 election cycle. Without a doubt, the articulate and flashy Ensign will win high praise and reward from his colleagues if able to protect some 21 Republican incumbents from challenges over the next two years. Sources say Ensign has all the qualities Republicans would want in a new face. “Whether he likes it or not, he’s going to be a rising star,” one Republican staffer said. Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). Despite his narrow defeat to Lott for the Minority Whip job in the 110th Congress, most believe Alexander has not abandoned his leadership ambitions. Well-liked and accomplished, the former Tennessee governor and presidential hopeful is close to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and recently scored a coveted slot on the Appropriations Committee. He also teamed up with Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) to initiate regular bipartisan breakfasts in the chamber. One source said Alexander “is an underutilized utility player” who undoubtedly will increase his role in the months and years ahead.