Rising Dems to Watch for in 2016

With 2012 just heating up, it is difficult to even think about future election cycles. But with the prospect of Vice President Joe Biden remaining on the ticket this upcoming cycle, the Democrats may find themselves in a position very similar to the Republicans following George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s eight years, with no heir apparent for the 2016 nomination.

Much has been made of the Republican “Young Guns,” as prospects for congressional leadership, and possibly the presidency. With President Barack Obama’s rise in 2008, very few comparisons have been made with the Democrats. But those loyal to Democrats should not be alarmed. The Democratic bench is both deep and balanced in terms of geography, ideology, and political experience. Below are some key Democratic up-and-comers.

Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and former mayor of Baltimore, is an inevitable frontrunner. In the 2006 governor race, he defeated the Republican incumbent by over 6%. In a 2010 rematch, a terrible year for Democrats, O’Malley won by 14%. O’Malley is a reformer; as Baltimore’s mayor, he took former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani’s best idea — the crime fighting data system Compstat — and implemented it in his city in a broader effort to save resources and reduce costs. As governor, he implemented the program statewide with broad success.

Cory Booker is only the mayor of Newark today, but it is all but certain he will find much higher office during his career. A Stanford graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and Yale Law graduate, who was also a college football player, Booker began his career providing legal services to urban populations. Like Obama, he spent part of his youth as an organizer for the poor living in public housing. In less than 10 years, Booker rose through the political ranks of Newark, N.J., first winning the mayorship in 2006. As mayor, Booker has received widespread acclaim from across the political spectrum for his efforts in cleaning up and moving Newark forward. Crime has been drastically cut, education has become results-oriented, and city governance has been made transparent and open. Booker made headlines when, during the 2010 blizzards, he personally responded to a constituent's Tweet, and shoveled out her elderly father’s driveway. The symbolism will stay with him for his career.

Claire McCaskill, war-time heir to Senator (and then President) Harry Truman’s Missouri seat, has used her Missouri seat well. In the Senate, much like Truman, McCaskill has been steadfast in her efforts to attack government contracting waste. She has famously and adeptly used her positions in the Armed Services Committee and as chair of the Contracting Oversight Subcommittee of Homeland Security and Government Affairs to attack much of what has turned Americans off to Washington. Defeating a Republican incumbent in a battleground state, McCaskill has that special moderate mix of intellect and populism to go far in a nationwide election. Her 2012 reelection will be the key test to her future prospects.

Kirsten Gillibrand is former New York Senator Hillary Clinton’s heir. She was appointed to fill the seat upon Clinton's nomination to secretary of state. Since then, Gillibrand easily won election in her own right and has developed a reputation as a strong advocate for gay rights. Married to a British citizen, she is also out front on many immigration issues. However, Gillibrand is no “Manhattan liberal.” She comes from upstate New York, where she had served in the House of Representatives. Much like McCaskill and O’Malley, Gillibrand earned that congressional seat by booting a Republican incumbent.

John Hickenlooper, who recently won his Colorado governorship in a very tough political climate, is much like Cory Booker. He also served as a young and impressive mayor; Hickenlooper was the scooter-driving executive of Denver. In Denver, he was wildly popular, winning reelection with 87%, and hosted an impressive Democratic National Convention. Hickenlooper sought practical solutions for issues such as homelessness, gun violence, and marijuana use. He aggressively pursued a program called Greenprint Denver, pursuing sustainable development and government practices. Like Booker, he was identified as one of the top mayors in the country by TIME. In the governor office for less than a year, Hickenlooper shows much promise. His political achievements are complemented by his successful business background, perhaps necessary for any future Democratic candidates to rebuild business ties — Hickenlooper was instrumental in the redevelopment revitalization of urban Denver.

Brian Schweitzer, yes, a Democrat, won the Montana governorship in George W. Bush’s reelection year by 3%. By the time he ran for reelection, he won with over 65%. His popularity has consistently polled in the 60's. A rancher who spent significant time as an irrigation developer in places across Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, Schweitzer speaks fluent Arabic. Schweitzer has some DC experience, too: He served in the Clinton administration at the Department of Agriculture. Schweitzer is something of a rural version of the urban reformers on this list — interested in vital issues such as water supply, firearms, and rural development. Schweitzer also started the Yellow Ribbon Program in response to Montanan troops coming to and from Iraq and Afghanistan, which was eventually adopted nationally.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Mike Stanek

Mike Stanek is an attorney with a firm in Washington, DC, practicing in government enforcement and investigations, civil litigation, and with the firm’s political law group. Mike attended law school at The George Washington University and went to DePauw University for his undergraduate studies. Mike has worked as a legislative and regulatory advocate for a nonprofit, has worked in politics, and serves on the DC leadership committee for Lambda Legal. He spends his spare time outdoors cycling, doing tri's, and enjoying the fresh air.

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