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New faces in Congress to watch

Washington Post / January 6, 2011

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Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Ayotte, one of Sarah Palin’s “mama grizzlies,’’ was the only woman elected to the Senate in 2010. A former state attorney general, she defeated a Tea Party-backed candidate in the GOP primary and then Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., in the general election to keep retiring Sen. Judd Gregg’s seat in Republican hands.

Senator Chris Coons, D-Del.
Coons is best known for defeating Republican Christine O’Donnell, who famously declared “I am not a witch’’ in a campaign ad. He was a volunteer for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign and became a Democrat after spending a year in Kenya during college. Coons fills the seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden.

Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Rubio has long been singled out as a rising conservative star, even forcing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist out of the GOP Senate primary to run as an independent. Rubio is the only Republican senator of Latino descent, and party leaders will be counting on him to reach out to Hispanics, who are crucial to building the GOP brand.

Representative David Cicilline, D-R.I.
Cicilline, the first openly gay mayor of a US capital city, gained renown in Providence for trimming the city’s deficit and fighting public corruption. He stopped taking contributions from city workers and turned down his own brother-in-law for employment with the city. Cicilline, who has said he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, succeeds Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D), who retired.

Representative Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.
Grimm, a former FBI agent and Wall Street analyst, is the only Republican congressman from New York City. Being the only majority member in an otherwise all-Democratic city delegation could enhance his power. As an undercover agent posing as a hedge-fund manager or money launderer, Grimm sported the nickname “Mikey Suits’’ because of his impeccable fashion sense.

Representative Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
Noem will be one of two freshman liaisons to the House GOP leadership. The hunter, cattle rancher, and former assistant state majority leader is already being talked about as a potential challenger in 2014 to Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Noem was tapped last month to deliver the weekly House GOP radio address.

Representative Austin Scott, R-Ga.
Scott was one of a large handful of Southern Republicans who ousted Blue Dog Democrats in the November elections. His victory over four-term Rep. Jim Marshall (D) heralded a major shift in Southern politics that helped tip the House to Republicans. Scott’s colleagues seem to expect that his legislative savvy will come in handy on Capitol Hill: They picked him as their class president.

Representative Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Scott and fellow freshman Allen West will be the only two black Republicans in the House during the 112th Congress. Scott first drew national attention when he beat Strom Thurmond’s son Paul in the 2010 GOP primary. But he was well known in the Palmetto State for leading a legal battle for the right to display the Ten Commandments outside the Charleston City Council chamber. Along with Noem, he will be a liaison to the House GOP leadership.

Representative Allen West, R-Fla.
A self-described “right-wing extremist,’’ West is a Tea Party favorite who has denied that Islam is a religion and once called President Obama “the dumbest person walking around right now.’’ West became a national cause celebre for conservatives when he was forced to retire from the Army in 2003 for presiding over the brutal interrogation of an Iraqi police officer who West wrongly believed had threatened to kill him.

Representative Jaime Herrera, R-Wash.
Herrera, a college intern in the George W. Bush White House, was elected at age 32 in the open-seat race to replace Rep. Brian Baird (D). She thinks House Republicans put themselves in the situation of having health care reform foisted on them by Obama by not acting sooner to control costs. “We basically asked for this,’’ she once told the Oregonian.