5. Ken Cuccinelli – Virginia’s Attorney General took office only in January of this year, after the November 2009 mini-wave election that brought us Republican governor Bob McDonnell. Cuccinelli was first out of the gate nationally to file a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the worst piece of American legislation passed in a generation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (ObamaCare, as it is known, is also the only significant piece of American legislation remaking large swaths of society that did not pass with bipartisan support.) Cuccinelli filed his suit on behalf of Virginia less than 48 hours after passage of the bill, and in August a district court judge ruled that the lawsuit may proceed, which most expect it to do all the way to the Supreme Court.
Cuccinelli earned his stripes for this act alone, but gets bonus points for spearheading an effort–now supported by almost 20 states–to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as a pollutant. He also scores for investigating former UVA professor Michael Mann’s role in last fall’s ClimateGate.
4. Jim DeMint – Like Sarah Palin, South Carolina Senator DeMint was both prescient and influential in hand-selecting Tea Party candidates to endorse in crucial races across the country for the 2010 midterm primaries. DeMint had a better record of picking true conservatives than Palin, including Chuck DeVore over Carly Fiorina in California and Ovide Lamontagne over Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.
After a six-year stint as a South Carolina Representative, DeMint was elected to the Senate and made a name for himself as one of the key Senators working to eliminate earmarks in Congress. He was a vocal opponent of the bank bailout President Bush supported and the stimulus bill Obama pushed. DeMint bucked Obama in 2009 and traveled to visit Honduran President-elect Roberto Micheletti in support of the leader’s arrest of leftist former president Manuel Zelaya. DeMint’s one downside is that he received only 33% more of the vote in his 2010 reelection bid than Alvin Greene.
3. Rand Paul – Arguably the most exciting winner in the 2010 midterms, Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul is both radically fiscally libertarian and less nutty and isolationist than his eccentric father, Texas Senator Ron Paul, including his opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay and his favoring military tribunals for suspected terrorists. Founder of Kentucky Taxpayers United and a self-described “constitutional conservative,” Paul weathered trivial criticisms over his ophthalmologist board certification, a college prank he played 27 years ago, and his reservations about one of the 10 titles of the Civil Rights Act. He crushed primary opponent Trey Grayson by 23% and general opponent Jack Conway by 12%.
Despite unjustified opposition to the PATRIOT Act, support for tax breaks to companies producing “alternative energy,” and other problems with his platform, Paul is unflinching in his desire to abolish the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax, and the National Department of Education. He also seeks to end federal bailouts and pass a balanced budget amendment, a moratorium on tax increases, and a “Read the Bills” Act.
2. Paul Ryan – In the dark days leading up to the passage of ObamaCare, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan proved himself to be, sadly, one of the few Republicans who could articulate the disastrous projected economic consequences of the legislation and reveal the sleight-of-hand Democratic legislators were using to pass the bill off as deficit-reducing. His efforts were most notable in his starring role in Obama’s embarrassing Blair House Summit in February.
Ryan also introduced the Roadmap for America’s Future, which outlined his plan for managing our country’s gargantuan deficits by addressing entitlement reform for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, including privatizing these programs via vouchers with declining value over time. While most Republicans are still figuring out how to repeal or defund ObamaCare, Ryan is several steps ahead, plotting how to reverse similar debacles passed generations ago and on the verge of bankruptcy.
1. Chris Christie – After winning a surprise victory over incumbent John Corzine last November, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been the conservative politician in recent memory who has most lived up to expectations. Whether fearlessly standing up to teachers’ unions, telling off legislators or reporters who refused to face facts, slashing wasteful government programs with no concern for the self-righteous outcry from beneficiaries of this largesse, or refusing to fund unaffordable new boondoggles like the proposed Manhattan-New Jersey tunnel, Christie put his principles into action and remained surprisingly popular with voters while doing so.
Christie already had a stellar record of accomplishment as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, having won convictions for 130 public officials in corruption cases with a stunning 100% success rate. In an election year full of impressive candidates who ran and won on outstanding platforms of things they promised to do, Christie nonetheless takes the top prize for actually doing them.
Honorable mentions: Andrew Breitbart, John Cornyn, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Ron Johnson, John Kyl, Mike Lee, Ted Olson, Tim Scott, Pat Toomey