- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

When Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor addressed an audience at the Republican National Convention four years ago, the setting was a midafternoon ice cream reception - and he wasn’t even the main speaker.

When Sen. John Thune took the podium at the 2004 Republican convention, the South Dakotan, who was out of politics and running against powerful Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, was limited to a 10-sentence minispeech.

Four years later, these young, charismatic lawmakers - both of whom had been mentioned as possible running mates for Republican nominee Sen. John McCain - are among a new crop of party up-and-comers expected to play prominent party roles in the future, starting with the national convention, which starts Monday in St. Paul.

“Our ranks are ripe with rising stars,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant. “Anyone looking at the Republican Party’s long-term prospects should be encouraged that we have so many young leaders who have already accomplished more” than Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

Mr. Cantor, 45, has risen steadily through the party’s ranks since he was first elected to Congress in 2000. He has aggressively attacked Democratic leaders and has been a staunch defender of the Bush administration, and his loyalty and ambition were rewarded in 2002 when he was chosen as House Republican chief deputy whip.

The Virginian, the only Jewish Republican in the House, has used his leadership position to increase his profile on Capitol Hill since his party lost control of the chamber to Democrats in January 2007. He is a frequent guest on television news shows and is considered a front-runner to replace Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio one day as House party leader.

“Eric Cantor´s leadership skills have rightfully earned him an immense amount of respect not only from Republicans on Capitol Hill, but also from the political pundit class, who see him as a potential Senate, gubernatorial or even vice-presidential candidate,” said Ken Spain, spokesman with the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Instant hero

Mr. Thune, 47, became an instant hero among conservatives in November 2004 when he knocked off Mr. Daschle.

With his rangy stature, good looks and friendly, articulate demeanor, Mr. Thune is viewed as a natural choice for future party leadership positions.

“For his first couple of years, he was the ‘knight in shining armor’ who took down Daschle, but I think he’s starting to rise above that, absolutely,” said Rebecca Fisher, spokeswoman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

He also is a member of the Senate’s Gang of 10, a coalition of five Republicans and five Democrats who recently drafted a sweeping energy compromise designed to lower the cost of gasoline, a plan that includes expanding offshore drilling and increasing development of renewable fuel sources.

“People do look up to him,” Mrs. Fisher said. “He is a figure who has risen certainly to be a national figure, and we’re very happy to have him on our side.”

Another young Republican with sky-is-the-limit political potential is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. After serving less than two terms in the House, he was elected governor in 2007, becoming the first nonwhite to hold the office since Reconstruction and the first elected Indian-American governor in U.S. history.

He was first elected to the House in 2004 at age 33 and immediately was elected class president, highlighting the scope of his political aspirations as well as his influence among his colleagues.

“From the day he arrived on Capitol Hill, Republicans knew that Bobby Jindal was going places,” Mr. Spain said.

Mr. Jindal, also mentioned as a potential McCain running mate, is a darling of the conservative right. While he was in the House, the National Right to Life Committee gave him a 100 percent pro-life voting record, and he opposes embryonic stem research and voted to make the Patriot Act permanent.

Worth watching

Other GOP rising stars with potential to shine brightly on the national political scene in the not-too-distant future include:

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. The popular first-term governor has participated in Sunshine State politics since the early 1990s, having served as attorney general, education commissioner and state senator. A political moderate, he brokered one of the biggest conservation deals in U.S. history this year when he persuaded U.S. Sugar Corp. to sell nearly 300 square miles of land it owns in the Everglades to the state. However, Mr. Crist, 52, also is socially conservative on many issues - he is a longtime advocate of the death penalty and has opposed reversing the state’s ban on allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She became the youngest governor in Alaska’s history when she was first elected in 2006 at age 42. She is wildly popular in her state, with approval ratings regularly topping 80 percent. Her background as a government reformer and a fiscal and social conservative has led to her being mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate. She helped steer legislation last year to build a natural gas pipeline from the state’s North Slope,, and she signed a bill in May to provide $250 million during the next five years for renewable energy projects.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. His approval ratings aren’t always stellar - usually hovering around 50 percent - and he was re-elected in 2006 with just 47 percent of the vote. However, his blue-collar appeal, staunch socially and fiscally conservative positions, his relatively young age (47) and early support of Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign make him a Republican to watch. Mr. Pawlenty has served as the chairman of the National Governors Association in 2007 and 2008. Syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak has called Mr. Pawlenty the “most conservative Minnesota governor since Theodore ‘Tightwad Ted’ Christianson in the 1920s.”

Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan. Just 38, Mr. Ryan already is serving his fifth term in the House. He is the ranking member of the House Budget Committee and is a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. “Paul Ryan has a mind for fiscal policy that very few can match, with a rare ability to communicate it,” said Mr. Spain.

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