Rising and Falling Stars

Posted September 17, 2010 at 11:10am

With a Republican wave building across the country that’s threatening
Democratic majorities in the House and perhaps even the Senate, Roll Call
takes an early look at the biggest potential winners and losers if the GOP
gains materialize.

Rising Stars


John Boehner

years ago, the Ohio Republican tried and failed to get the bulk of his
Conference to vote for the Wall Street bailout, and he went on to see his
party take a drubbing at the polls as the economy spiraled downward. Now
the Minority Leader has his party poised to retake the House and is
preparing to become the third Republican Speaker since the 1950s. Boehner’s
full-throated opposition to President Barack Obama’s agenda — from the 2009
stimulus package to health care and financial reform — has helped put his
party back on offense and renewed voter enthusiasm. Boehner even convinced
his colleagues to forgo earmarks for a year in a signal to the party’s base
that they were serious about fiscal responsiblity. One caveat: Expectations
are so high for House Republicans that anything short of a takeover of the
chamber would be a major disappointment.

Jim DeMint

Assuming even a handful of tea-party-backed candidates make it
into the Senate, conservative standard-bearer DeMint is likely to be
regarded as a kingmaker for candidates that ran against National Republican
Senatorial Campaign picks and surprised in winning primaries. The South
Carolinian’s Senate Conservatives Fund began endorsing anti-establishment
Republicans before it was cool, and his candidates have racked up an
impressive record. If candidates he has supported run the table Nov. 2,
DeMint could have several new allies in the chamber. It is no secret that
DeMint has long regarded Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as an
ineffective leader who is not ideologically pure enough for the Conference,
and a clutch of new loyalists could inflame the tensions that already exist
between the conservative Steering Committee chairman and McConnell.

Mitch McConnell

Until the past few months, the Kentucky Republican has
struggled to keep his Conference united against the Democratic agenda. For
all of 2009, McConnell only had 40 Members, one shy of the number needed to
sustain a filibuster. But even once he got 41 in the form of Massachusetts
Sen. Scott Brown, he still found that his centrists were easy pickings for
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Recently, he has had more unity, but
with a more substantial minority — or even the majority — McConnell will
undoubtedly have more power to block President Barack Obama’s agenda and
his nominees. If the number of GOP Members hits the high 40s, McConnell may
even be able to let most of his centrists vote however they want, while
still achieving his goal of stopping Obama in his tracks.

Paul Ryan

ranking member on the Budget Committee has already emerged as the GOP’s top
ideas guy with his ambitious “Roadmap for America’s Future” proposal to
remake and shrink Social Security and Medicare to cut the deficit. With
deficits and spending likely to top the agenda regardless of who is in the
majority, the Wisconsinite will have an outsized role at the bargaining
table. Ryan makes up a third of the self-styled Young Guns along with
Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin
McCarthy (Calif.), who together could became the faces of an ascendant GOP
majority. Ryan is also seen as a potential deal-maker because he has
credibility with the conservative base and maintains good personal
relationships with senior Democrats.

Darrell Issa

ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has
already carved out a niche as the chief investigator of the Obama
administration, pushing repeatedly for investigations of the White House,
including a job offer to keep Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) out of the Democratic
Senate primary and wasteful spending in the stimulus package. But a GOP
takeover would give The California Republican broad new powers to launch
investigations and issue subpoenas against the administration. Even if he
falls short, Issa will still command the spotlight as Republicans try to
tarnish Obama — and question his administration’s management — heading into
the 2012 presidential campaign.

Falling Stars

Nancy Pelosi

Speaker had the biggest Democratic majority in a generation and was
determined to use it. After pushing through a hugely ambitious agenda
during the 111th Congress, and with some dubbing her the most powerful
Speaker in history, she’s set for either an ugly return to the minority or
will be left clinging to a far narrower majority that will demand a more
moderate agenda. Many question her decision to push through the
cap-and-trade bill — her flagship issue — because she forced moderates in
her caucus to support an issue that did not sit well in their
conservative-leaning districts. Pelosi successfully shepherded that bill as
well as comprehensive health care and financial reform through the chamber,
but in so doing, she may have added to the vulnerability of her incumbents
and cost them their jobs.

Harry Reid

matter what happens Nov. 2, the Nevada Democrat is sure to be on the losing
end. The worst-case scenario is that Sharron Angle, the Senate Majority
Leader’s tea-party-backed Republican opponent, denies him a fifth term. But
even under the rosiest of scenarios, Reid will be a considerably weaker
leader — assuming no one challenges him for the top job. Despite what he
has termed unprecedented “obstruction” by Republicans in the 111th
Congress, Reid’s robust majority has allowed him to beat back most GOP
filibuster attempts. With fewer Members, he will have to do his fair share
of deal-making. While Reid has relished that role in the past, his
liberal-dominated caucus has been loath to negotiate with Republicans,
leaving Reid with few options against a GOP Conference that could be just
as ideologically devoted to its conservatives.

Scott Brown

Once the darling of the conservative tea party, the bloom has
fallen off the rose for Brown. The Massacusetts Republican was the first to
stun the Democratic establishment by beating state Attorney General Martha
Coakley (D) in January 2010. He took the seat of the late Sen. Edward
Kennedy (D) partially because of the Democrats’ 2009 push for a
comprehensive health care overhaul. Though he gave Republicans the 41 seats
they needed to sustain a filibuster, he turned out to be a
less-than-reliable vote and became one of Reid’s go-to Republicans. Because
of his tendency toward the center, Brown lost favor among conservative
activists. Once the new crop of Senators arrive next January, Brown’s swing
vote will be less influential, given Democrats will likely need more than
just one Republican to beat back any filibusters.

Bob Menendez

Becoming Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman
during the 2010 cycle was a loser for the New Jerseyite from the beginning.
In the four years previous, former DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) had
pretty much maximized Democrats’ reach into red and purple states, and the
2010 landscape had always promised to be challenging. But one misfortune
after another has made it even more complicated for Menendez: A White House
unable or unwilling to provide cover for Congress, his Majority Leader’s
repeated impolitic statements, retirements from otherwise safe seats in
North Dakota and Indiana, an inability to recruit favorites in key states
such as Illinois, and a surging anti-incumbent sentiment that even some of
the most popular career politicians seem unable to escape.

Henry Waxman

California Democrat waited decades to secure the Energy and Commerce
Committee gavel, seizing it from Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) two years ago.
No chairman has more power in Pelosi’s circle, and Waxman played key roles
writing both the cap-and-trade bill and the House’s health care overhaul.
But the former chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform panel
angered moderates for pushing a liberal agenda that forced them into a
defensive crouch as anti-incumbent sentiment swept the country. Waxman had
pushed to do the cap-and-trade bill before health care over the objections
of party campaign chief Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and others who worried
it could further imperil vulnerable Members.