5. Eric Cantor « The Washington Independent
The 47-year-old House Republican Whip rode into 2009 on a wave of glowing profiles and assessments of his “rising star.” Unlike some other Republicans who won those plaudits — Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) or Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) — Cantor delivered on his promise. Early in Barack Obama’s presidency, Cantor perfected the art of presenting Republicans as deal-makers, then uniting them against bills crafted by House Democrats. It began with a unanimous Republican vote against the American Reinvestment and Economic Recovery Act. “Thank you for that goose egg you laid on the president’s desk,” newly elected RNC Chairman Michael Steele said at his first meeting with Cantor’s conference, following the stimulus vote. And for the rest of the year, Cantor’s party framed that vote as the clearest example of why Democrats should heed the GOP. But it wasn’t all good news. Cantor’s ambitions also backfired this year. He launched The National Council for a New America in April in an effort to rebrand the party, and while the caucus first attracted plenty of attention, it soon fizzled from lack of direction. In addition, Rush Limbaugh and others attacked the group, which was soon caught up in confusion about Cantor’s staff politicking. But in November, Cantor once again basked in the spotlight as Bob McDonnell led a Republican landslide to win the governorship in Cantor’s home state of Virginia. At the Republican celebration in Richmond, as he recorded interview after media interview, Cantor looked like a prophet.