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Posted at 7:54 AM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Ten members to watch in the 112th Congress

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

The 112th Congress officially convenes today with dozens of newly elected members -- and newly empowered incumbents -- popping up in the halls of Capitol Hill and on a cable television channel near you.

It's virtually impossible to keep track of so many fresh faces -- the Fix's memory ain't what it used to be -- so below is our cheat sheet of ten members to keep an eye on.

Consider it a belated new year's gift. And, make sure to check out all of the Post's terrific coverage of the start of the 112th Congress here.

1. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R): Toomey is a man in the middle. His strong fiscal conservatism gives him credibility among the tea party crowd but he's spent time in the House and has cordial relationships with the party establishment too. How does Toomey navigate between the two camps?

2. Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D): Van Hollen is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and, as such, will be at the epicenter of Republican attempts to trim down the spending of the federal government in the Obama Administration. Van Hollen has policy chops but also carries two cycles as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under his belt, which means he knows the politics of this fight inside and out.

3. Tennessee Rep. Diane Black (R): Black, who cruised to a victory in former Rep. Bart Gordon's (D) old 6th district, won a seat on the coveted Ways and Means Committee as a freshman -- an assignment that tells you how promising the GOP leadership thinks she is. Black is ambitious and able, and will likely wind up in party leadership sooner rather than later.

4. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D): Since being elected from the Show Me State in 2006, McCaskill has emerged as one of President Obama's most loyal -- and high profile -- allies. But, she is up for reelection in 2012 in a state that moved decidedly against Democrats in 2010. How much distance McCaskill puts between herself and the Obama Administration will be a telling sign of how strongly the political winds are blowing.

5. Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R): People like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio get far more attention as tea party candidates coming to Washington but keep an eye on Lee, who upset former Sen. Bob Bennett (R) last year. Lee is a tea partier through and through and could be the real Senate story in the 112th.

6. South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott (R): Scott drew some national attention in the summer of 2010 when he defeated scions to the political legacies of Strom Thurmond and Carroll Campbell to claim the 1st district Republican nod. Because the race wasn't competitive in the fall, Scott fell off many peoples' radar. He shouldn't. Scott, one of two African-American Republicans coming into Congress today, is likely to quickly gain a high profile in a party looking for new faces.

7. North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D): Conrad watched as Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) retired and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) were defeated in the last cycle -- and now must decide whether or not to run again in his own right in 2012. If Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, does decide to retire, it could actually help the chances of a bipartisan budget deal as he would be less concerned about the political fallout from any compromise.

8. New York Rep. Steve Israel (D): Israel is the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and, as such, is tasked with winning back a majority for his side. Although only 25 seats separate Democrats from control, re-taking control of the House is harder than it might at first appear. Israel is aggressive and the right man for the job, however, and if he can succeed (or come close) he might be able to stamp his ticket for future leadership gigs.

9. Michigan Rep. Dave Camp (R): Camp may be the most powerful member of Congress you've never heard of. He's the chairman of the mighty Ways and Means Committee and, though low profile, will have considerable sway over health care, taxes and trade. That's a wide -- and important -- palette.

10. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D): Manchin got elected last fall by running directly against the Obama Administration's main legislative priorities. Does he keep that anti-everything approach as an actual senator or does he let leadership bend his ear (and his vote) on some issues? Remember that Manchin has to stand for a full term in 2012 and Republicans will be watching each and every vote very carefully for signs that the former governor has "gone Washington".

Bachmann for president?: ABC News dropped a cable news bombshell this morning, reporting that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is weighing a run for president.

It's hard to see where Bachmann sees herself fitting into the GOP presidential field -- particularly if Sarah Palin runs. Bachmann and Palin inhabit largely the same political space -- female, unapologetic conservative, tea party favorite -- but Palin carries with her a much higher profile and would be hard to usurp for those voters.

Bachmann ran briefly for a House leadership role after the 2010 election, until it became clear that she was unlikely to win. She has also been mentioned as a potential challenger to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in 2012.

Boehner backs Cino: Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is throwing his increasing political weight behind Maria Cino's candidacy for chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. CNN reported Tuesday that Boehner was making phone calls for Cino.

This may be interesting to the chattering classes, but it's not terribly surprising (Cino is close to Boehner and his chief of staff, Barry Jackson), and it's hard to see it having a major impact.

Endorsements from Republicans outside the committee don't figure heavily into the RNC chairman's race, as the committee's 168 members are fiercely protective of their prerogatives.

Cino is currently an also-ran in the race, and it's hard to see her path to victory. (The Hotline's great whip count shows her with the least declared support among the five remaining candidates.) Boehner's support is nice, but convincing members to support an RNC candidate is a pretty tall task -- even for the speaker of the House.

Fixbits

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could struggle in the GOP presidential race because of his support as governor of health care overhaul that has been likened to President Obama's. Santorum endorsed Romney in the 2008 presidential campaign, but may run against him this time.

There may be a push in Nebraska to award all of its electoral votes to the winner of the state, rather than giving one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. That unusual system gave Obama one electoral vote in 2008, after he won the Omaha-based congressional district.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was uncharacteristically contrite after a recent snowstorm sunk his political capital.

"30 Rock" (great show!) actor Alec Baldwin says (again) that he is interested in running for political office.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a potential GOP presidential candidate, says the debt is more dangerous than "the Soviet nuclear threat."

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), who represents a safe Democratic district, may retire.

Must-reads

"Hedge Funds Bet Heavily on Republicans at End of Election" -- the Center for Public Integrity

Tea Party favorite DeMint goes easy on 2012 White House contenders, so far -- The Hill

Birthright Citizenship Looms as Next Immigration Battle -- the New York Times

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | January 5, 2011; 7:54 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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