President Obama saw his popularity fade, but scored a win by nudging the Senate to pass health care reform before Christmas. Unemployment hovered at 10 percent. American troops began surging toward Afghanistan. The Republicans showed impressive discipline, but struggled to find a standard-bearer—let alone an agenda—amid the rising influence of Tea Partiers and the Limbaugh set. The stage is set for a fascinating 2010. The midterm elections next fall historically bring an ebb in the majority party’s fortunes. Can the GOP take full advantage? Can Obama and his pit bull, Rahm Emanuel, minimize the damage? And most importantly, who, amid all the clamor, should we pay attention to?
The Daily Beast surveyed the landscape for the politicos to watch next year—both newcomers just stepping onto the stage, and wily veterans back for a second (or third) act.
Charles Pugh (D)
President, Detroit City Council
His is the kind of biography that could lift the fallen city of Detroit. Charles Pugh, orphaned by his mother’s death and father’s suicide, was raised by his grandmother, earned a scholarship to study journalism at the University of Missouri, and became a news anchor before turning to politics, elected president of Detroit’s city council. Pugh, 38, is joined by four other fresh-faced candidates, who, working with Mayor Dave Bing, hope to renew a city badly tarnished by economic blight and corruption.
Martha Coakley (D)
Nominee to succeed the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy
The Commonwealth’s Attorney General will face a Republican opponent in a special election next month. But it’s a formality; in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, her elevation to the Senate is all but assured. She’s got big shoes to fill; the seat was held for decades by Edward Kennedy and John F. Kennedy. Coakley, 56, would become the 18th female member of the august body—an all-time high for the women’s caucus. It’s also about time: despite its progressive tradition, Massachusetts has historically been surprisingly inhospitable to female candidates.
Haley Barbour (R)
Barbour’s an old Republican hand whose lobbying background makes him a charter member of the Beltway establishment. But if anyone is going to figure out how to put the Republican Party back together, and develop a strategy to stave off Democratic incursions in the Deep South, it will be the 62-year-old Mississippi governor. Ensuring Barbour’s place at the table: he now leads the Republican Governor’s Association.
Marco Rubio (R)
Candidate for Florida Senate seat
He’s the man at the center of the Tea Party, Marco Rubio, 38, the conservative challenger to Gov. Charlie Crist for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat. At the end of 2009, polls showed the former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives running even with Crist, who once upon a time was seen as a potential vice presidential nominee for his party and a shoo-in for the Senate. For a party at times at war with itself, a win for Rubio would be a major victory for the right wing.
George P. Bush (R)
Head of the Texas GOP’s Hispanic outreach
The telegenic scion of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is set to head overseas as an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserves. But when he gets back, he’ll be on the front lines of the Republican effort to win over Hispanic voters—carrying on work that represented a significant part of his father’s—and his uncle’s—legacy. The fourth-generation Bush, 33, might also decide to go into the family business—and run for office himself someday soon.
Maria Cantwell (D)
U.S. Senator from Washington
The Democratic senator from Washington hit the headlines in December 2009 by co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. John McCain, seeking the return of Glass-Steagall, the Depresssion-era law that erected a wall between commercial banks and investment banks. With populist anger over the financial sector still running high, look for Cantwell’s cause to receive a lot of favorable attention next year. And as a former RealNetworks exec, she’s got the private sector street cred to get Wall Street to listen.
Charlie Baker (R)
Candidate for Massachusetts governor
Despite committed support from the White House, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is on the ropes. Republican Charlie Baker hopes he can land the knockout punch. Baker, 53, is just the kind of business-oriented centrist Republican who has seduced Massachusetts independents. The former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and veteran of two previous Republican administrations in Massachusetts is already polling strongly for the state’s top job.
Beau Biden (D)
Candidate for Delaware Senate seat
Fresh off a tour of duty in Iraq, where he served as a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Beau Biden, 40, is preparing for a likely run as the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Delaware. (You may recall his father, Joe, held the seat for 36 years.) He would have a fight on his hands with a popular Republican opponent, Rep. Mike Castle. In the meanwhile, he’ll be cooling his heels as Delaware’s attorney general.
Steven Cohen (D)
U.S. Representative, Tennessee
The two-term incumbent Democratic representative will face a tough challenge from Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. Tennessee is likely to be one of the roughest states for incumbents in 2010, but Cohen’s task is made all the more difficult by resentment that the majority African-American district is represented by a white man (“I vote like a 45-year-old black woman,” Cohen, 60, has memorably said.) A rash of retirements of Democratic members of Tennessee’s House delegation is sure to make the Volunteer State a major Republican target in 2010. Cohen will need all of his considerable political skill just to get out of the primary alive.
Danny Tarkanian (R)
Candidate for U.S. Senate
The son of the famous towel-waving UNLV basketball coach may be the one responsible for waving the Democratic Senate Majority Leader out of Congress. Sen. Harry Reid’s favorability numbers are in the basement, and the Republican Senate candidate will be the likely beneficiary. A lawyer and businessman, Tarkanian, 47, hasn’t held statewide office before. But he is neck-and-neck with state party chair Sue Lowden with six months to go until the GOP primary.
Jerry Brown (D)
California Attorney General,
Candidate for governor
Some of the stars in next year’s political skies have been around longer than others. Democrat Jerry Brown, 71, who was governor of California in the 1970s will be Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s likely successor in Sacramento. Right now, he’s besting each potential Republican opponent in the polls. Now serving as attorney general, Brown has yet to announce his candidacy, but he’s been fundraising up a storm. Having held the office before, Brown knows what he’s getting into, leading a state with an anemic economy and a bewildering political system.
Tucker Carlson and Andrew Breitbart
Conservative web entrepreneurs
The Bush years led to the rise of liberal media online—Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, and all the rest. Will Obama spawn a new generation of powerful web pols on the right? Two guys are hoping they can be the ones to do it: Tucker Carlson and Andrew Breitbart. Carlson, the bow-tied Fox News commentator and erstwhile Daily Beast contributor, will start his site Daily Caller in January. Around the same time, Matt Drudge’s protégé Andrew Breitbart will unveil his Big Journalism site. En gard, Democratic majority: Sharp commentary and a burst of aggressive reporting is coming your way.
Founder of Firedoglake.com
Sure, the right wing is seeing a renaissance with Obama in the White House, but don’t forget that the left is none too pleased with the Pragmatist in Chief either. Jane Hamsher, 50, the founder and publisher of the progressive site FireDogLake.com, will have a boom year, as she leads the liberal rallying cry against an administration that it feels has abandoned its principles.