Opinion: Columnists

GOP leaders need to nurture their future prospects

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Opinion,Hugh Hewitt,Columnists,Republican Party,2014 Elections,Campaigns,Magazine

If the GOP approached leadership the way the NFL does the draft, the party would be positioning itself for 2020 and beyond as well as focusing on this November and the presidential election of 2016.

That would mean a party-wide effort to identify and rank political prospects according to their natural talents, their prior accomplishments and, of course, their "ceiling" — NFL-speak for how high a future star can rise.

The good news is that quite a few extraordinary political prospects have self-generated across the country and even now are beginning to turn heads and attract contributions and support from the more senior party loyalists and funders.

Chief among them is Rep. Tom Cotton, the 36-year-old from Arkansas challenging a legacy incumbent, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. If the Army Ranger and combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan topples Pryor -- an increasingly likely prospect given Cotton's nimble, funny and strategic campaign and Pryor's continual stumbles, fumbles and mumbles -- Cotton will instantly join New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and Florida's Marco Rubio as the young hawks the old institution desperately needs if national security issues are to have champions through the middle of the century.

Two other military veterans, Reps. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, are also, like Cotton, graduates of Harvard Law School. Both are natural prospects to move up to the Senate in the years ahead, and House GOP leaders should be looking to help prepare them for that future race.

A pair of new faces to most Americans are Dr. Monica Wehby in Oregon and Terri Lynn Land in Michigan. Both have surprised Beltway pundits by making what were once thought to be "safe" Democratic Senate seats in blue states and making them competitive. In Land's case, she already leads the hapless, gray Gary Peters, a long-serving House member from somewhere in Michigan but nowhere in anyone's front-of-mind, by six points among likely voters in the state's most recent poll. Wehby is making incumbent Jeff Merkley sweat by pointing out the very worst Obamacare state exchange in the land is Oregon's massively expensive and complete failure. ($248 million completely wasted as the exchange was shuttered last week).

If State Sen. Joni Ernst (also Lieutenant Colonel Joni Ernst in the Army Reserves, currently commanding the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard) wins the GOP Senate primary in Iowa, she will join Wehby and Land as well as Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., as perhaps the strongest field of Republican women candidates for the Senate ever.

There are other new faces as well. Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey built Cold Stone Creamery into a national engine of happiness (and first jobs for teenagers) before running and winning statewide office and then successfully leading the effort to block a massive state tax hike. Ducey is running for governor now, and if successful, the Buckeye-born Ducey will instantly become a national figure, as Arizona is a lynchpin in national presidential politics for both parties.

Even at the level of first-time candidates for Congress, there are impressive new faces, such as Igor Birman, who was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated to the country in 1994 and has built his campaign for the Republican nomination in California's Seventh Congressional District on a top-to-bottom freedom platform.

All across the country, new energy and new faces are driving the GOP forward, but they need the help of establishment groups and deep-pocketed donors.

Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, law professor at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law, and author, most recently of The Happiest Life. He posts daily at HughHewitt.com and is on Twitter @hughhewitt.
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