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Republicans Look to Bench for Rising Stars

The ranks of House Republicans were decimated in the 2006 elections, and the party stands to lose even more seats when voters go to the polls in November. But on Capitol Hill, the GOP’s odds of rebounding and reversing their fortunes may depend on drafting a new team of rising political stars. Here are a few of the up-and-comers within the Republican Conference:

• Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) already has an outsized role for a freshman in the Conference, often getting face time at leadership press conferences and, like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), is a conservative mother of five. Also like Palin, Bachmann had a bit of a national debut earlier this month at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., which was on her home turf. She also hails from a Democratic-leaning state and knows the struggles the party faces in holding onto suburban districts such as the one she represents.

• Rep. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) is viewed as a rising star but he’s also an up-and-outer. With Barrett expected to run for governor back home in 2010, his remaining time in Congress seems limited. But should he decide to stick around, his colleagues hold high praise for him.

• Rep. Charles Boustany (La.), a cardiac surgeon before his election to the House in 2004, has emerged as a talented floor speaker and thoughtful legislator for Republicans. He is seen as likely to get a coveted seat on the Ways and Means panel, replacing retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.).

• Rep. Mary Fallin, who served as Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor for 12 years before her election to Congress in 2006, has executive experience, and, like Bachmann, is one of the band of conservative GOP women with high-profile roles in rallying to Palin’s defense. She scored a prime-time speaking slot at the GOP convention and has taken on an increasingly visible role on TV as a presidential surrogate.

• Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), another freshman, came to the House last year with big shoes to fill: He replaced his onetime boss, legislative giant and former Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). But McCarthy has moved quickly to distinguish himself — this summer, he oversaw the drafting of the Republicans’ convention platform. He has also taken a prominent role in helping to raise money for candidates through the GOP Young Guns, a group he co-founded. McCarthy has ambitions to become chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, but it remains to be seen if he can leapfrog over more senior Members to get that job next cycle.

• Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.) is from an area and state that Republicans need to win if they’re going to make up ground they lost in 2006, and he brings a sharp focus to bread-and-butter middle-class economic issues. Early on in his Hill career, Rogers was viewed as being groomed for a leadership role. Then his star seemed to fade. Still, some observers wonder: Could a leadership bid be in his future?

• Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.) hails from the kind of suburban district in the Midwest that Republicans must win to be competitive and, like Bachmann, he escaped 2006’s GOP bloodbath with a narrow victory. As a freshman, Roskam has caught the eye of leadership and been rewarded with a spot on the whip team. He also has significant legislative experience, both as a former Capitol Hill aide and as the Senate floor leader in the Illinois Legislature.

• Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) isn’t just an up-and-comer; he’s an already-here. But the youthful ranking member on the Budget Committee leapfrogged more senior members and is frequently mentioned by his colleagues as a future leader — although that’s something he says he wants no part of now because he has young children at home.

Ryan has become his party’s go-to guy on fiscal matters and speaks effectively without partisan bombast, particularly on the issue of entitlement reform, something rarely on the lips of leaders in either party.

• Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.) has been in Congress for a dozen years, so he’s not exactly a fresh face. Still, he has emerged this session as one of the GOP’s go-to guys on the party’s all-consuming issue of energy and gasoline prices. Shimkus can give a partisan whack with the best of them, but he also has earned the respect of some Democrats, who see him as someone whom they can work with next year.

• Rep. Todd Tiahrt (Kan.) straddles the various wings of the party, and he has both his fans and detractors. He’s a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, yet he strongly backs earmarks as a member of the Appropriations Committee. For much of the 110th Congress, the GOP Conference has been focused on talk of a potential earmark moratorium. If the pro-earmark forces make a comeback, could Tiahrt’s star rise?

• Rep. Patrick Tiberi (Ohio), a fiscal conservative who has the ear of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), saw his profile boosted this spring when he was tapped, along with former NRCC Chairman Tom Davis (Va.), to conduct an audit of the GOP’s stunning string of three special election losses. Several of his colleagues believe he’s one to watch and he’s seen as likely to get a seat on the Appropriations Committee next Congress, filling one of two Ohio vacancies.

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