The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The five must-watch political figures of 2015

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks in Louisville. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
Placeholder while article actions load

Oh, 2015. Sandwiched between a historic midterm election year and the year America will elect its next president, you're doomed to suffer the political equivalent of middle child syndrome, right?

Wrong. Because the next 12 months matter. A lot. For some leading politicians, they could be breakout years. Others could fizzle.

At the center of it all is the presidential campaign that is kicking into gear. But there are also elected leaders to keep an eye on who won't be making bids for the White House.

With that in mind, here is a list of five must-watch politicians for the new year:

1. Elizabeth Warren

Hillary Clinton is the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination -- by a mile. But her position could change if Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) begins to show signs she is also interested in running. No one has caught fire in the Democratic Party like Warren, the leader of the populist, anti-Wall Street movement the party is embracing more and more. Asked in media interviews whether she wants to run for president, her answer is that she is -- present tense -- not running. The whole not-totally-ruling-it-out undertone of her response has given many liberals hope that she may eventually jump in. The key to politics is finding the right moment to make your move. Warren is as buzzy a figure in the Democratic base right now as any politician could dream to be. And on the heels of a tough midterm defeat, Democrats are looking for something and someone to get really excited about. The question is whether Warren wants to be president, and, if so, whether the prospect of taking on Clinton and her vast political network is enough to dissuade her from running. Given Warren's immense influence in the party, she will be surrounded by White House buzz all year until/unless she definitively rules out a run.

2. Rand Paul

No other prospective presidential candidate has been as aggressive as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He has sparred with fellow Republicans Rick Perry, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie to name a few. He's carefully made inroads with the GOP establishment in a way his father never did. And he remains a superstar in the conservative grass roots and the leader of a growing movement of activists concerned about an overly aggressive national security strategy. Paul arguably did as much or more than anyone in 2014 to improve his stock ahead of 2016. The question is whether he can sustain that momentum in 2015.

3. Mitch McConnell 

Soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has spent years resisting the agenda of the Democratic-led Senate. Now, he will get his chance to set the pace -- just as Republicans are about to take unified control of Congress. McConnell will be under intense pressure to keep the GOP in a position to hold the Senate in 2016 and give his party some concrete accomplishments to run on come the fall of 2016. That could mean dealing with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) -- who reminded the political world in the contentious spending bill debate late last year that he is still willing to buck his party on big issues -- one day and trying to find common ground with the White House the next. In short, McConnell's triumphant 2014 produced a very challenging 2015 for him.

4. Greg Abbott

Few elected positions carry as much national visibility as governor of Texas. Outgoing Gov. Rick Perry ran for president and might do it again. His predecessor, George W. Bush, held the nation's top job for eight years. So Greg Abbott (R), the Lone Star State's next governor, is going to be under a big spotlight beginning in his first year in office. During his winning campaign over Democrat Wendy Davis, a candidate with a national following of her own, voters got to know more about Abbott's personal story, which includes being struck by a falling tree at age 26 and being forced to use a wheelchair. “I have the ability to bridge the conservative segments of our party with the business elements of our party, and also build a bridge to the Hispanic community in the state of Texas. So I’m able to hit a trifecta that’s really never been done,” Abbott told The Washington Post last year. That sounds like someone who might one day have his eye on something bigger than the governor's mansion.

5. David Vitter 

No, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is not going to be in any 2016 presidential conversations. But he is running for governor of his home state this year. Considering Vitter was once embroiled in a high-profile prostitution scandal, the prospect of him competing for the governorship would have seemed highly unlikely eight years ago. But observers credit Vitter's keen political instincts for keeping himself afloat. Also helpful to Vitter: He did not have to face reelection until 2010, well after the "D.C. Madam" controversy erupted around him in 2007. His resilience is about to face another big test. If he wins, he will cement his comeback story in political history.

Loading...