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Gingrich was the brains behind the Republican “Contract with America” and was in large part responsible for the party’s stunning takeover of the House in 1994. The Georgia Republican rose to power in record speed — less than six years from rank-and-file Member to Speaker.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree that Gingrich helped redefine the GOP and launch it to its majority status today. While not everyone in the Republican Conference liked Gingrich, virtually all respected him. Democrats, by contrast, almost universally despised him.
Gingrich, arguably one of the savviest political minds in the history of Congress, ascended the leadership ladder by courting crucial support from moderates, even though he was a staunch conservative. He also had a knack for undermining majority Democrats. He almost singlehandedly took up the ethical fight against then-Speaker Wright, and later challenged President Bill Clinton on impeachment head-on.
Gingrich’s self-confidence led to one major political setback — his fight over the 1995 budget, which led to a government shutdown for which the GOP was blamed, eventually aiding Clinton in his re-election bid.
Gingrich opted to retire amid attacks from fellow Republicans over his failure to live up to predictions in the 1998 midterm elections. Gingrich was also dogged by charges of ethical allegations and faced mounting criticism from his colleagues over his brash leadership style.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.),
Served 1983-1993 (House),
Boxer, the only woman to make our top 10 list, has developed a reputation as one of the most liberal lawmakers and a vocal advocate for abortion rights, gun control and women’s issues.
Boxer, elected to the Senate in 1992, has made waves throughout her tenure, but most notably for her defense of then-President Bill Clinton and her march across the Capitol as a House Member to defend Anita Hill, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
More recently, Boxer challenged the 2004 electoral college vote — an almost unprecedented act, and one that was sure to fail, but which was designed to call attention to Democratic allegations of election irregularities in Ohio. “She is perhaps the personification of the feminist left,” the Almanac once wrote.
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas),
House Majority Leader, 2003-present
DeLay is the Republican that Democrats love to hate. First elected to the House in 1984, DeLay rose quickly. In his second term, he won a seat on the coveted Appropriations Committee. In 1992, he won the post of Conference Secretary, and when the Republicans took over the House in 1994, DeLay outdid then-Rep. Walker — the best friend of Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) — to win the Majority Whip job. In January, 2003, DeLay became Majority Leader.
DeLay is viewed by friends and enemies alike as a master political strategist and one of most influential Members in House history. While the GOP’s margins in the House during the past few Congresses have been low by historical standards, DeLay, more than anyone else, has enforced firm party loyalty that has translated into an unparalleled ability to win on virtually every vote.
DeLay has also enforced fealty among lobbyists on K Street and masterminded the 2004 Texas re-redistricting effort that led to the ouster of four Democratic incumbents. His strong-arm tactics have embroiled in a series of recent ethical controversies, but he has so far avoided any serious punishment.