Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) along with many Republican Senate candidates lost in 2012. But there were standouts and some future GOP stars who put forth great effort and whose devotion to their party and the conservative movement won’t be forgotten. Here are the top ten:
1. Reince Priebus: He inherited a mess at the Republican National Committee, turned around its finances and made it an asset once again. As a spokesman for the party, he was capable and rarely if ever off message. Whether he stays on at the RNC or pursues office himself, he helped reverse the fortunes of the committee.
2. Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio): There was no better surrogate, adviser or debate partner for Romney-Ryan than Portman. He embodies the common sense conservatism the party will need to advance. He’ll be an asset in the Senate and could one day find himself on a presidential ticket.
3. Gov. Bob McDonnell (Virginia): He could not help Romney win Virginia but he ends 2012 as one of the most popular governors in the country. He is barred from seeking a second consecutive term, but he will be an asset in the future to the conservative movement and the party. He was a near flawless surrogate for Romney, showing retail political skills that will come in handy, I suspect, in his future.
4. Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio): He kept his majority, came out smelling like a rose in Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics” and has earned the respect of many conservatives for backing a reform agenda and refusing to duck the problem of entitlement spending.
5. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.): Eventually she will take the baton from Republican national security gurus like Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). In this race she came into her own both as a serious critic of the Obama foreign policy and as a capable surrogate for the presidential ticket. She has a promising career ahead of her.
6. Sen. Elect Deb Fischer (Neb.): After pulling a stunning upset in the primary she won the seat, the only pick-up for Senate Republicans. She managed to never use rape, God and abortion in the same sentence. That’s saying something in this dismal election year. As one conservative blogger put it, “Deb Fischer, is the first of many. She is a new breed. She is Sarah Palin with an enhanced intellect.” Republicans should hope she is a trend setter.
7. Artur Davis: The Democrat-turned-Republican delivered an eloquent convention speech. As someone who has been around Democrats, run and served as a Democrat and watched his party stray too far left, he is a resource in the effort to expand the party’s reach and a potential candidate.
8. Gov. Scott Walker (Wisconsin): He survived the Big Labor onslaught and brought to light the very real problem of public employee union excess. Conservatives need examples of courageous pols who take on big issues.
9. Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.): He ran professional and invaluable hearings on Fast and Furious and the Benghazi, Libya debacle. In the effort to hold the Obama administration accountable for its conduct he’ll be a critical player.
10. Gov. Elect Mike Pence (Indiana): In replacing Gov. Mitch Daniels, Pence ran a successful campaign, kept his focus on his own race (as opposed to the Richard Mourdock catastrophe) and is now positioned to expand upon the Daniels record of reform. He will be a critical player in upcoming battles on Medicare and education reform, as well as energy and climate control. His decision not to seek the presidency turned out to be a savvy move.