— Rep. Chris Van Hollen. Perhaps no Democratic House Member is more often featured on television than Van Hollen, ranking member of the House Budget Committee. The Marylander has several major advantages that set him apart from his leadership colleagues. First, Van Hollen invested two campaign cycles (2006 and 2008) in the taxing, stress-filled job of chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. These four years of service earned him chits with dozens of Members, a national fundraising base, proven experience communicating on television and political chops. Second, Van Hollen is in a safe district in blue Maryland, removing any worries about re-election. Third, Van Hollen won election as the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, opposite one of the Republican Party’s leading lights in Ryan, affording him an opportunity to lead, respond to or frame anything on the committee’s agenda, which led the news for much of the first half of the year. Van Hollen is likely to attempt succeeding Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as House Minority Leader in 2013, should she retire or not run again.
— Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). Rubio could have immediately been a national star once he was elected to the Senate in 2010 in one of the most unlikely long-shot bids in modern history. Instead, he focused on his home state, Senate committee work and learning the ropes of the arcane Senate. Coons also benefited from the tea party in 2010, when it helped nominate the unelectable Christine O’Donnell instead of Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), a former governor. Coons easily won and will likely be a Senator for life, as his predecessor, Joe Biden, was before becoming vice president. Rubio and Coons teamed up to author the AGREE Act, jobs legislation that addresses tax, economic and immigration issues on which there is broad agreement between the two parties, providing a successful model for future bipartisan work in a period of hyper-partisanship.
Matt Mackowiak is a Republican consultant based in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, and president of Potomac Strategy Group.