Rising and Falling Stars

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

Two 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

The 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

The 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

The 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

No 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

The 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.