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Meet The Freshmen: Rising Stars Of The GOP

As the Republicans prepare to take over the House this week, they're welcoming almost 90 newcomers into their ranks. Here are eight who are poised to stand out.

Kristi Noem (SD-At Large)

Her Deal:Two years ago, Noem was a political novice newly elected to her state's Legislature. Today, she's a media darling newly elected to Congress and a member of the incoming Republican House leadership in the newly created position of liaison. News media have nicknamed her the "Palin of the Plains": She's attractive, fashionable, feisty, a mother of three -- and she hunts, too.

Why She's A Rising Star: Because she raised more money than her incumbent opponent (an uncommon feat), including collecting more than twice as much from individual donors. That ability will quickly ingratiate her with House colleagues looking to fill their re-election coffers. And because she's actually not Palin, already having shown skill at sticking to the conservative policy message and enough smarts to maintain distance from the Tea Party movement and Palin herself.

Why You Should Care:She, along with co-liaison Tim Scott of South Carolina, will be the most powerful freshman members. Hers is likely to be the face of the Republican Party's broader strategy for connecting with women and younger voters for years to come (if she keeps winning elections). As the state's lone representative, in an at-large seat, she already holds statewide name recognition that takes others years to build, providing her an advantage for a future bid for the Senate or governor.

Martha Roby (AL-2nd District)

Her Deal:Roby narrowly defeated Rep. Bobby Bright by tying him to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite Bright's conservative credentials as a Blue Dog Democrat. Bright drew fundraising predominantly from political action committees, while Roby far surpassed him in individual donations -- demonstrating her ability to marshal strong grass-roots support. Like others on this list, she ran with the endorsement of Palin.

Why She's A Rising Star:Before taking out the incumbent in the general election, Roby managed to get through a crowded, difficult GOP primary with 60 percent of the vote, another indication of skilled retail politicking at a relatively young age. She's savvy at tailoring national party positions to the local level, such as when she pushed a City Council ordinance that would ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants. Then there's her pedigree, as the daughter of 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joel Dubina, an appointee of the first President Bush.

Why You Should Care: She's a conservative who campaigned on a hard-line, anti-tax platform. She's a Southerner and a woman, two attributes attractive to both the GOP's geographical base and to swing-voting women. The party already recognizes her potential and put her on its congressional transition team.

Tim Scott (SC-1st District)

His Deal: Scott may be new to representing his state's 1st Congressional District, but he is no stranger to firsts: the first African-American Republican elected to his county's council since Reconstruction; the first black Republican voted into the South Carolina Legislature in more than a century; and now, the first black Republican elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction.

Why He's A Rising Star:To get to Congress, Scott first had to prevail over the scions of two South Carolina political dynasties: He beat the son of popular former Gov. Carroll Campbell II in the primary, then defeated the son of long-serving U.S. senator and political titan Strom Thurmond in a runoff. He's risen to political leadership at the local, state and, now, joining Noem as the other freshman liaison, federal levels. Even before taking the liaison post, Scott served on the House GOP's transition team. And he's a Tea Party favorite, a conservative's conservative on fiscal matters likely to have no trouble maintaining support from both the upstart and traditional factions on the right.

Why You Should Care: At the risk of stating the obvious, because he's a Republican and black -- the first elected, along with Allen West, since J.C. Watts in the 1990s. That combination always is controversial (and contradictory, many believe) and will very likely keep him in the cross hairs of national debates about policies and problems disproportionately affecting African-Americans. Thus, Scott will have to decide if he'll follow in the Watts mold as the GOP's foil to black political orthodoxy. For that reason, in addition to his solid conservative credentials, he'll become one of the more prominent new faces of the Republican Party.

Ben Quayle (AZ-3rd District)

His Deal: Most politicians announce their candidacies at press conferences, but when you're the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, you can count on Daddy's help. The elder Quayle told the world of his son's virgin bid for office during an appearance on the Fox News Channel. With that boost, Ben Quayle became the prohibitive favorite, pushing past nine other candidates to win the nomination. An archconservative, he ran into trouble when he denied -- and later admitted -- having written years ago for a risque website about the local nightclub scene. Writing under the pseudonym Brock Landers (a name inspired by a porn star character in the film Boogie Nights), he recounted his hunt for "the hottest chick in Scottsdale." Ahem. He deflected the heat by airing a tough-talking campaign in which he vowed to "knock the hell" out of Washington and called President Obama the "worst president in history."

Why He's A Rising Star:Given his political heritage, it is almost inevitable that Quayle's will become a familiar face among the chatter chamber of cable news television. Apart from his naughty Web behavior, he's a prototypical conservative lawmaker: staunchly to the right on the big issues, articulately outspoken, well familiar with life in the Beltway bubble, an able fundraiser, and knows how to make a big splash that excites his base. Not to mention that he's handsome, telegenic and young and appears a natural fit in the role of hard-charging reformist.

Why You Should Care:Don't expect a son of Dan Quayle to be satisfied sitting on the chamber's back bench for too many years. Remember that before Dad's political career collapsed like a mashed "p-o-t-a-t-o-e," he was the family's original wunderkind. He won a seat in Congress at age 29 and at 33 became the youngest senator ever elected from Indiana. For Ben Quayle, add to the mix the strength of his family name in Arizona politics and it's clear how he beat nine opponents in his first rodeo.

Adam Kinzinger (IL-11th District)

His Deal: Recaptured a formerly Republican-held seat by defeating incumbent Democrat Debbie Halvorson with a surprisingly impressive 57.5 percent. How? He benefited from the district's disapproval of her votes in favor of the health care overhaul and "cap-and-trade" legislation. And he outworked her on the ground. When members of Congress held town halls in their districts about health care in 2009, Halvorson conducted her meetings by phone -- leading Kinzinger to hold his own town halls across the district. The decision won him grass-roots credibility. Voter opinions in Illinois' 11th District, which spans the southwest Chicago exurbs, tracks closely with national polls, and as public support for the Democrats (and Halvorson) waned, Kinzinger had done the spadework to take advantage.

Why He's A Rising Star: As a 19-year-old college sophomore, Kinzinger made his first bid for office and defeated a 12-year incumbent to take a seat on his county's governing board. Five years later, he joined the Air Force, earned his pilot's wings and served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Visiting Milwaukee one night in 2006, he stopped an attacker who had slashed a woman's neck with a knife. Kinzinger disarmed and subdued the man. By the time he announced his congressional bid in 2009, his background made him irresistible to national GOP leaders looking for the next breakthrough stars. He ran with the endorsement of three 2012 presidential hopefuls, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He's another of the four freshman lawmakers who served on the House transition team.

Why You Should Care:Fiscal conservative. Good looks. Self-effacing manner that appeals to Joe Six-Pack voters. Combat veteran. Hero. Hollywood couldn't have sketched a more attractive profile. Plus, Kinzinger represents a swing district in a battleground state. A true bellwether, the 11th district went for Bush twice, then for Obama.

Allen West (FL-22nd District)

His Deal: West defeated Democratic Rep. Ron Klein after losing to him in 2008. A Tea Party darling and beneficiary of a Palin endorsement, he raised nearly twice as much money as Klein in one of the highest-profile races. West, one of two black Republicans elected this year, has decided to join the Congressional Black Caucus, saying he intends to inject some conservative principles into the liberal group, which is made up of Democratic lawmakers. To that end, he's off to a confrontational start -- calling the caucus a "monolithic voice that promotes these liberal social welfare policies and programs that are failing in the black community, that are preaching victimization and dependency."

Why He's A Rising Star:West's hard-charging, gung-ho style arguably already has made him a star. A career Army officer who served in Iraq, he was forced to retire for firing a pistol near the head of a Iraqi police officer whom he was interrogating in 2003. His case, which could have gone to a court-martial, made him a hero to conservative pundits. The incident led 95 members of Congress to sign a letter to the Army secretary in support of West. Since his election, his forceful personality and seeming fearlessness to address sensitive issues has only raised his profile. He's appeared repeatedly on Fox News, been profiled by national news organizations and landed a spot on NBC's Meet the Press, a booking coveted by any member of Congress.

Why You Should Care: West (as well as Tim Scott) was a godsend to the GOP. Since J.C. Watts' retirement in 2003, the party has been eager to turn out a new crop of high-profile African-Americans to prove that it, too, can be a big-tent party -- a goal made more urgent with the election of Barack Obama. Republicans poured so much money into West's campaign, it was the second-most expensive House race of the year (the candidates raised a combined $10.2 million). And he is universally respected by veterans and pro-military voters, which helps broaden his appeal. The evidence: Though West is ultraconservative and black, he won comfortably in a district that’s politically moderate and 83 percent white.

Yet just as his maverick style endears him to Tea Partiers and other conservatives, it could put West at odds with the GOP House leadership. He criticized Republicans and Democrats who voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," calling their decision "utterly disturbing" and "pathetic." He also fired off an e-mail to House Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor chiding the leadership for proposing shorter workweeks for members and more retreats, saying lawmakers should spend more time in session. In addition, he recently committed his first gaffe when he said the news media should be "censored" for "aiding and abetting" the WikiLeaks disclosures of U.S. diplomacy documents. He then posted a statement on his Facebook page clarifying that he meant "censure" or harsh criticism.

Raul Labrador (ID-1st District)

His Deal: A dark-horse candidate, Labrador pulled an upset primary victory against the Republican establishment's anointed candidate, thanks to Tea Party support. He then defeated Democratic incumbent Walt Minnick in a nasty general election battle. Minnick went negative early, running a widely condemned ad that suggested Labrador -- an immigration attorney born in Puerto Rico -- abetted illegal immigration. In turn, Labrador successfully painted Minnick, a Blue Dog Democrat, as a Nancy Pelosi acolyte -- despite the fact that Minnick disagreed with substantial parts of the Democratic agenda.

Why He's A Rising Star: He's a hard-liner on the bread-and-butter party issues -- anti-tax, anti-abortion and anti-amnesty for illegal immigrants, for instance. He's got the support of the Tea Party, but he also draws support from Latinos, who make up about 10 percent of the state population and are growing in number at more than three times the rate of non-Hispanics. And he is one of a record six Hispanic Republicans elected to Congress during the midterms.

Why You Should Care: His could be one of the faces carrying the GOP message on immigration. Illegal immigration is a central issue in Idaho, and Labrador has described himself as the most qualified of any member in Congress to address it. Not just because of his ethnicity, but also because of his work as an immigration attorney whose practice represented undocumented Latinos.

That presents a curious dynamic: Being Hispanic appears to have inoculated Labrador from criticisms that his legal work undermines his tough stance on the issue. Labrador wants tighter border security, including the use of National Guard troops, and an improved guest worker program. And he adamantly opposes amnesty, preferring that illegal immigrants be made to return to their countries and apply for entry to the U.S. as guest workers or through other lawful means. Notably, he has avoided taking a position on birthright citizenship, though he most likely will have to soon enough, since several powerful GOP members want to end that 14th Amendment right for U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

Steve Stivers (OH-15th District)

His Deal: Defeated Democratic incumbent Mary Jo Kilroy in a rematch of their 2008 battle, which he lost by less than a percentage point. Many credited Kilroy's victory to Obama's coattails. This year, Kilroy might have won again had Stivers heeded party leaders who asked him to withdraw and run instead for state auditor.

Why He's A Rising Star:Stivers has a centrist ideology, humble style and All-American aura. He's known inside the Republican Party as "golden boy." He has unique potential to appeal to a diverse swath of voters because of his varied background and tendency to seek the middle ground on some issues. He's a decorated war veteran, former Wall Street trader and financial industry lobbyist (who supports some degree of financial reform). He supports abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life, and during his tenure in the state Senate he backed legislation to freeze tuition at state colleges, allow the disabled to buy into Medicaid, and provide some medical malpractice protections for doctors who treat uninsured patients.

Why You Should Care: Like Kinzinger of Illinois, Stivers represents a swing district. Except this one's in Ohio, historically a bellwether for how the nation will vote in a presidential election. In addition, he represents the state’s most populous city. And he already has the ideal profile, solid support base and party backing to become a viable candidate for higher officer sooner rather than later. In a nod to his political potential as well as his financial background, Stivers recently was tapped to serve on the House Financial Services Committee, which regulates Wall Street. It's a plum assignment for a freshman. He'll sit on a panel with jurisdiction over federal monetary policy and the banking system.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corey Dade is a national correspondent for the NPR Digital News team. With more than 15 years of journalism experience, he writes news analysis about federal policy, national politics, social trends, cultural issues and other topics for NPR.org.