The Washington Post

The Republican Party’s deep bench of rising stars

(Jae C. Hong/AP)

We won’t know which political party will win the election until November. And we can’t tell which one will get the bigger post-convention bump in the polls until at least next week.

But one race the Republicans appear to be winning is the one for the deepest bench of rising stars.

As the Democratic National Convention opens in Charlotte, it’s revealing to compare the lineup of speakers for each party. (The Democrats may add speakers over the course of the week, its list notes.) The first night of the Republican convention was keynoted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has had his share of presidential buzz, and included remarks from a parade of other high-profile Republican names, including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Compare that to the Democrats’ opening night keynoter, San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. No matter how young or charismatic he may be, he’s hardly a household name. I know: Barack Obama wasn’t either in 2004, but that kind of meteoric rise to stardom seems unlikely to happen twice.

The second nights for each party’s convention provide a similar contrast. The Republicans’ keynote speaker was, of course, Rep. Paul Ryan (R, Wisc.), Romney’s running mate and a near shoe-in for the 2016 race if the two don’t win the election is year. The Republicans also heard from buzzed-about VP possibilities such as Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. Meanwhile, Democrats are turning back to the past for their second night’s keynote—Bill Clinton will speak—with Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren reportedly sharing some of the prime-time spotlight.

Warren, of course, is a rising star. Some Democrats are already mentioning her as a potential candidate for 2016. The problem? She hasn’t yet won what’s likely to be a tough election to the Senate, and she doesn’t have enough company. Beyond Joe Biden (who will be 74 in 2016), Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo (the latter two of whom weren’t on the current list of speakers at the convention as of Monday night), the speaker line-up is short on high-profile future Democratic leaders who would be considered household names. Cory Booker may be better known, but how many average Democratic voters (much less independents) know much about Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley? Or Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer?

One interesting number helps to highlight the divide between the two parties. As the current line-up stands, the Democrats are including just one person on their speaker schedule who is simply a candidate for a major race: the aforementioned Warren. The Republicans, meanwhile, included 15. That’s not a sign of the party’s lack of talent in elected office (by my count, they included nine governors, roughly 20 congressman or senators, and a handful of mayors). Rather, they seem more inclined to feature up-and-comers in their party, giving a greater number of future leaders a chance to shine on a national stage.

Maybe it’s simply because the Democrats are pinning their hopes on a change of heart in 2016 from the incredibly popular Hillary Clinton. Or perhaps there are some breakout stars among the cast of political figures who will speak on behalf of the president this week (Castro’s reputation could very well take off like Obama’s). But a deep well of already high-profile names—Christie, Haley, Ryan, Rubio, Walker—makes it pretty clear the GOP appears to be winning the race to fill the bench of future high-profile leaders.

More from On Leadership:

Why Condoleezza Rice’s speech stood out

Inside Chris Christie’s keynote address

Why presidents are rarely breakthrough leaders

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

@post_lead | @jenamcgregor | @lily_cunningham

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Play Videos
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
The rise and fall of baseball cards
How to keep your child safe in the water
Play Videos
'Did you fall from heaven?': D.C.'s pick-up lines
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
How to get organized for back to school
How to buy a car via e-mail
The signature drink of New Orleans