5. John Kerry
In theory, 2009 was a bad year for the former presidential nominee. Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) aggressively auditioned in 2008 for the position of secretary of state, but instead received a consolation prize: the gavel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Kerry revitalized the committee’s prestige this year. His first task was to shepherd through the committee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nomination as secretary of state, which Kerry handled with grace. Kerry then hosted a yearlong series of probing, thorough and intellectually vigorous hearings on Afghanistan-Pakistan policy, and helped write a landmark $7.5 billion aid bill for Pakistan. He also reached across the aisle to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to begin work on a climate change bill that’s likely to be central to the 2010 congressional calendar. In October, Kerry took diplomatic matters into his own hands and personally brokered Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s acceptance of a runoff vote in Afghanistan’s deeply flawed election. Though the runoff turned out to be overtaken by events — Karzai’s rival withdrew — it would hardly be surprising if Kerry’s intervention ended up sealing the deal with President Obama to make Kerry his next secretary of state.