The 2022 midterm elections failed to produce the much-anticipated “red wave” that conservatives were hoping for. But despite failing to retake the Senate and making only modest gains in the House (although, importantly, enough to flip control of the chamber), Republicans can take heart in strong showings from several candidates who appear to be rising stars within the party. Here are a few names to keep your eye on in the years ahead.
John James – Michigan 10th Congressional District
While Republicans failed to oust Democrat Governor Gretchen Witmer and lost ground elsewhere in Michigan this year, U.S. Army veteran and businessman John James was one of the brightest spots for the GOP anywhere in the country this year.
Following a competitive race against incumbent Michigan Senator Democrat Debbie Stabenow in 2018 and a narrow defeat to Michigan’s other Democrat Senator, Gary Peters, in 2020, James this year locked up the newly created 10th district, located just north of Detroit, in what many pundits believed to be a bellwether for GOP efforts to make inroads with suburban voters. Notably, James will become the first Black Republican to represent Michigan in Congress, and the first Black member to represent a majority-White suburban district.
Even before his victory in November, the 41-year-old West Point grad was still viewed by many in Republican circles as a strong contender for future statewide races. James may prove a formidable force in politics for years to come.
Wesley Hunt – Texas 38th Congressional District
Another Black West Point grad, Wesley Hunt – who graduated with James in 2004 – also made waves on election night by trouncing Democrat Duncan Klussmann in the Texas 38th Congressional District, 63%-35.5%. Although the district, which mainly encompasses suburbs in the Houston area, was always considered a safe Republican seat, Hunt’s performance was viewed as especially strong.
Throughout his campaign, Hunt emphasized key conservative issues like protecting the Second Amendment, defending election integrity, and stopping wasteful spending, while also focusing on issues specific to the Houston area like bolstering flood infrastructure and securing the border. Like James, Hunt’s success points to a rejuvenated Republican Party and the emergence of fresh faces who have strong potential as future leaders.
Monica De La Cruz – Texas 15th Congressional District
The good night for Texas Republicans continued in the 15th Congressional District with the election of Monica De La Cruz, a Trump-endorsed candidate who ran on a platform of border security and an unapologetic defense of pro-life policies.
De La Cruz has been on the political radar for some time after coming within three points of ousting incumbent Democrat Vincente Gonzalez, Jr., in 2020, just two years after Gonzalez had won the district by more than twenty points. This year, in a redrawn district that was more competitive but still had a Cook PVI rating of D+3, De La Cruz defeated Democrat nominee Michelle Vallejo 53.3%-44.8% after Gonzalez opted to run in another district rather than face De La Cruz again.
De La Cruz also reflects the accelerating trend of Hispanics, particularly in border states, fleeing the Democratic Party for the GOP. Her success is more proof that formerly deep-blue seats in states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida that were once thought unwinnable for Republicans are now firmly in play.
Lee Zeldin – New York governor’s race
Congressman Lee Zeldin didn’t win his campaign for the New York governorship, but his strong performance may have been the crucial factor in Republicans winning control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Zeldin came within six points of ousting incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul – an astonishing feat given that former Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo had won reelection by more than 23 points in 2018. But the real impact of his performance was felt down-ballot, where Republican House candidates flipped four Democrat House seats in New York. Perhaps the most satisfying victory of the night for Republicans came in New York when State Assemblyman Michael Lawler ousted incumbent Congressman and Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Sean Patrick Maloney.
To be sure, the Republican candidates in each of these four New York races deserve immense credit. Lawler in particular may be at the start of an impressive rise of his own. But it’s undeniable that Zeldin, even while enduring a personal defeat, played a pivotal role in this election year for Republicans. Some Republicans are even calling for Zeldin to replace RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, a nod to his strong performance and the belief that he can lead the GOP to future successes.
Regardless of what the next move is for Zeldin, 2022 is likely not the last time Republicans will see him in a leading role.
Katie Britt – Alabama U.S. Senate seat
Nobody expected the Alabama U.S. Senate race to be close. But first-time politician Katie Britt still somehow exceeded expectations with a 66.8%-30.9% drubbing of her Democratic opponent. Even before entering the Senate, Britt has proven herself to be someone who can work with sometimes contentious factions within the GOP – she was one of only a few candidates to enjoy the backing of both former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who were often at odds this cycle.
As the former Chief of Staff to Alabama Senator Richard Shelby – whom she will replace – Britt already has a firm grasp of how the Senate operates and can be expected to have an immediate impact upon arriving back in Washington. Though her career as an elected official is still in its infancy, it’s a good bet that Britt will rise quickly through the ranks in the Senate, and perhaps may even have presidential or vice presidential ambitions in the more distant future.
These names are just a few of the rising Republican stars who emerged in 2022. Of course, the real test for any politician is how well they wield power and deliver for their constituents back home. For that, we’ll have to wait and see.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.
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