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WaPo: Top 10 Influential Republicans

October 26, 2009

10. Bob McDonnell: The former attorney general of Virginia is 11 days from being the Commonwealth’s next governor, a victory that many Republicans believe is a critical building block for the party’s comeback nationally. McDonnell has proven to be a quality candidate — telegenic and steady. It says something about the state of Republican leaders nationally that McDonnell is already beating back 2012 talk before he has even been elected. (Previous ranking: N/A)

9. John Boehner/Mitch McConnell: As 2009 turns to 2010, the focus on Capitol Hill will diminish as the attention paid to the campaign trail increases. But, before that happens, Boehner, the House minority leader, and McConnell, his Senate counterpart, will be tested over the coming conclusion to the health care fight. So far, Boehner has been able to keep his conference unified in opposition to the legislation while McConnell lost Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) who decided to vote for the bill in the Senate Finance Committee. The White House will go hard after a handful of moderate Republicans — particularly in the Senate — to give the legislation the air of bipartisanship. Can McConnell and Boehner convince their members to stand firm? (Previous ranking: 6)

8. Pete Sessions: The Texas Republican isn’t as high profile as some of his colleagues but he quietly has put together a strong roster of recruits in a large number of congressional districts in his role as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. At the end of September, 51 GOP challenger candidates showed more than $100,000 in the bank — evidence of Sessions’ work to broaden the national playing field heading into 2010. And, it looks likely that the House is where the GOP will have its best opportunity to make significant gains next November — a possibility that could further elevate Sessions if it comes to pass. (Previous ranking: N/A)

7. Michael Steele: See above. We dropped Steele two spots in this month’s Line because some of the 2012 players have grown increasingly active of late. If Republicans can win in Virginia and New Jersey next month, however, he’ll move back up the Line as it’s hard to argue with success. (Previous ranking: 5)

6. John Cornyn: Even Democrats acknowledge that the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman has done a bang-up job in recruiting ahead of the 2010 election. Cornyn’s latest coup? Rep. Mike Castle (R), whose decision to run for the open Senate seat in Delaware makes the First State instantly competitive. The NRSC’s current crop of recruits is the strongest the committee has fielded since 2004 and puts Senate Republicans in a stronger-than-expected position heading in the midterms. (Previous ranking: 10)

5. Haley Barbour: The chairman of the Republican Governors Association continues to keep a relatively low profile in Washington — if that’s possible for a man who own a steakhouse in the heart of the city — but he remains incredibly influential behind-the-scenes as one of the most respected strategists in the party. With McDonnell looking like a winner and Republicans still in the game in New Jersey, Barbour could be headed for a very good election night next month. (Previous ranking: 3)

4. Mike Huckabee: No one inside the Beltway takes the former Arkansas governor seriously. But, outside Washington — and particularly among social conservative voters — Huckabee is a force to be reckoned with; his win by a surprisingly wide margin in a recent straw poll of conservatives is evidence of that strength. Still, Huckabee seems content to repeat his blueprint from 2008 with no significant national staff or any obvious attempt to reach out beyond his social conservative base. Not smart. (Previous ranking: 7)

3. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor is, smartly, picking his spots of late. Romney promised in an interview earlier this year with the Fix that he didn’t feel compelled to sound off on every issue and instead would pick those he felt passionately about, and he has largely stuck to that promise. He continues to do the sorts of things — raising money for South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, penning an op-ed in the Manchester Union Leader — that make clear he plans to run again in 2012. (Previous ranking: 1)

2. Tim Pawlenty: Tpaw is the buzz candidate of the Republican establishment at the moment. From the large turnout for his first D.C. event last night to the announcement of a deep and talented team to advise his PAC, it’s clear Pawlenty is the current “it” boy in Republican politics. Pawlenty, to his credit, seems to understand that he started behind people like Romney, Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in terms of name identification among party activists and has seemingly been everywhere over the past few months trying to rectify that problem. The danger, of course, in Tpaw’s full court press is that it is still a long ways to 2012 and it’s tough to be the new, hot thing for three years. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Sarah Palin: Like it or not, the former Alaska governor is the prime mover in Republican politics at the moment. Her memoir — “Going Rogue” — immediately went to number one on Amazon’s bestsellers list despite the fact that it won’t be released until the middle of next month. And Republican operatives all acknowledge that if you want to ensure a big and energetic crowd at a GOP event the best way to make that happen is to get Palin there. Of course, Palin’s political operation is nonexistent and she seems entirely uninterested/unable to capitalize politically from the amount of interest she generates. (Previous ranking: 9)

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