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Posted at 10:27 AM ET, 02/25/2011

The top political newcomers

By Chris Cillizza

Only two months have passed in 2011, but already a number of new faces have made names for themselves -- sometimes for good and somtimes for bad -- on the national political scene.

Some, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R), are living up to long-held expectations for making noise once in high office. (Paul and Cuomo also, interestingly, are following famous fathers in politics.)

Friday Line

Others, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), came out of nowhere -- emerging as a national political player during his ongoing standoff with the state's labor unions in recent weeks.

Here's a look at 10 newcomers making waves so far in 2011. The No. 1 ranked person has made the biggest splash.

Who did we miss? Offer your own suggestions in the comments section.

To the Line!

10. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.): The 30-year-old freshman congressman has carved out a maverick record in his short time in Congress, voting against his party more than any other House newcomer, according to a review of votes by OpenCongress. But even more than voting to the beat of his own drummer, Amash is the first member of Congress to explain his votes on Facebook -- something that became particularly important when he voted "present" (an unusual move for a member of Congress) on five significant votes last week. Does Amash's decision to explain his votes catch on with his colleagues?

9. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D): Cuomo waltzed into the governor's office in 2010 thanks to his own personal popularity and the slow-motion-car-wreck candidacy of Republican nominee Carl Paladino. Seeking to take advantage of the momentum from such a wide win, Cuomo is pushing hard to close the Empire State's massive $10 billion budget deficit. Among his "take your medicine" proposals is a 2 percent cut in Medicaid -- a previously unimaginable move for a Democrat to make. Cuomo's hard line on spending has won him praise from strange places -- most notably New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) who referred to him and Cuomo as "soulmates".

8. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.): The freshman congressman and funeral home owner from the panhandle of Florida wasn't considered a top GOP recruit, but he dispatched Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) with relative ease and is now a key voice for fiscal conservatism in Congress. Southerland was vocal during a closed-door meeting with Republican leaders, reportedly pushing for bigger cuts than the GOP's bill provided and commanding the attention of Republican leaders. "I want you to know there is a limit to how far I will follow," Southerland reportedly said. "I may lose in 2012, but I will not lose me." Strong stuff from the congressman, who also had a strong appearance on ABC's "This Week" last Sunday.

7. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.): Among a small class of just nine freshman House Democrats, Bass has set herself apart. She's already doing recruiting trips for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and earning rave reviews from her colleagues and staff. As the first African-American woman to serve as speaker of the California Assembly, it should be little surprise that Bass is making a splash so early in her tenure.

6. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): Paul was one of the few winning Senate candidates to fully embrace the tea party movement during the 2010 campaign, and he's shown similar loyalty since entering the Senate last month. Paul has proposed $500 billion in budget cuts, an eye-popping proposal that put him out of step with many in his party pushing for more modest reductions. And Paul's profile will only continue to rise with the publication of his new memoir entitled, appropriately, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington".

5. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R): Like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Ohio's Kasich is trying to balance his state's budget while also implementing broad conservative reforms, including eliminating the state's estate tax and curbing union protections. (He's also gotten some bad publicity for appointing a nearly all-white Cabinet.) Ohio could well be the next battleground in the fight between Republican leaders and Democratic-supported public employees.

4. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.): Manchin, the popular former governor of the Mountain State, had a surprisingly difficult time winning the state's open Senate seat last fall. On the good side, Manchin led the charge to repeal an unpopular provision of the health care bill. On the bad side, he quickly found himself in hot water for skipping the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal vote to attend a Christmas party in West Virginia. That episode illustrated the fine line he must walk as he seeks to win re-election in 2012 in a state that has moved dramatically against his party over the past decade.

3. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.): A self-described "right-wing extremist," West is almost certainly too conservative for his district, but he doesn't seem to care. While he's been a little more careful with his words since taking office, he is still a firebrand; he gave the keynote speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference and has made headlines for his comments about Muslims. At the same time, his impassioned rhetoric has made him a hero of the right, and Newt Gingrich has even mentioned him as a potential vice-presidential candidate.

2. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R): The wealthy former health care executive survived two rough-and-tumble campaigns (a primary and the general election) to win his post, and he's been unafraid to ruffle feathers ever since. Scott has delayed the implementation of two new redistricting amendments passed by voters, released an ambitious education agenda, pushed for $2 billion in tax cuts in the midst of budget troubles and, most recently, inflamed state legislators by rejecting a plan to build a high-speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando. We expected Scott's tenure to be an interesting one, and it has not disappointed.

1. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R): Walker is only one of many new governors who came into office promising tough cuts. But his attempt to end collective bargaining for many public employees -- and the subsequent union revolt -- have made him a national hero for conservatives and a national villain for liberals. More cautious Republican leaders are watching closely to see whether Walker will win this fight.

Aaron Blake and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

By Chris Cillizza  | February 25, 2011; 10:27 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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