By Megan Pratz and J.D. Durkin
2018 was a dramatic year on the political stage ー but more drama is yet to unfold as new players enter the scene, promising more disruptions in Washington. In anticipation of a new year and a new Congress, we’re gazing into Cheddar’s Crystal Ball to bring you our predictions for the politicos to watch.
#5: Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.)
Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw will take up the mantle for Texas’ 2nd Congressional district, but he is perhaps better-known for his November appearance in “Saturday Night Live”.
Crenshaw’s comedic ability may have raised his national profile, but we’ll be watching him for another reason entirely. He’s one of the most prominent new Republicans in the incoming 116th Congress, and is part of 2018’s veteran wave.
A former Navy SEAL, Crenshaw served in five deployments overseas and lost his right eye after an IED blast in Afghanistan. He went on to serve his last two tours after that injury.
While Crenshaw will cast reliably Republican votes, he’s entering a Democratic Congress, so we shall see how he fares in hostile territory.
#4: Colin Allred (D-Tex.)
Another new voice in Congress from Texas, Colin Allred may be a familiar name to both football fans and political spectators. After he suffered a career-ending neck injury playing in the NFL, he changed course and took up advocacy work. Allred eventually went to law school, worked as a civil rights attorney, and served in the Obama administration. Like many Obama alums, he decided 2018 was the year to run.
Allred wasn’t favored to win, and his race was close. His opponent, Republican Incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions, had served 10 terms in Congress and held high-ranking positions in the party.
Allred attributed his win to a powerful message and the spirit of togetherness.
“If there is any national lesson to take from this race, it’s that we can work together,” he told supporters on election night. “You don’t have to run in a district that’s built for you, you can run in a place that means something to you.”
Allred won with a healthy margin in a reliably-conservative district and may have been buoyed by residual symptoms of the “Beto-fever” that took over Texas. Either way, his win is a sign that Texas politics aren’t necessarily business as usual.
#3: Lauren Underwood (D-Il.)
Remember that pink wave of women that swept politics this year? Lauren Underwood is one such woman who ushered in that wave. At the age of 32, she is also the youngest black woman ever elected to Congress.
“We made history,” she said to supporters on election night, tying her victory in 2018 to the 1968 historic win of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress.
She promised constituents to be a “bold representative” for Illinois’ 14th Congressional district, where she’ll be assuming her position in January.
As a woman of color, Underwood represents the changing face of politics, particularly in the Democratic Party. The fresh diversity in politics is an important narrative to watch as the demographics of the country’s leaders continue to shift.
# 2: Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)
Certain politicians in 2018 received promotions from voters, and moved from the lower house to the upper chamber. One of the more nail-biting races unfolded in Arizona, where two U.S. Representatives, both women, faced off to become the state’s first female senator.
Kyrsten Sinema, who has become more centrist during her time in Congress, ultimately won that race over Republican opponent, Martha McSally. But in a strange twist of fate, the two women will serve side-by-side, as McSally will replace the retiring Sen. Jon Kyl.
Arizona has been a consistently red state politically for a long time. Most recently, voters there re-elected the late Sen. John McCain. But like in Texas, demographics in Arizona are shifting, and it may become a more purple state over time. It will be perhaps most interesting to see how Sinema maintains her centrism in an increasingly polarized Senate.
#1: Mitt Romney (R-Utah)
To those of us who follow American politics, there are familiar faces that seem to appear and reappear every season, as if on rotation. None of these faces are perhaps more prominent in recent political memory than Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president and a former governor of Massachusetts, who re-entered politics in 2018 and won a seat representing Utah in the U.S. Senate by a landslide.
Neither his run nor his victory was particularly surprising. So why is he on our list?
Many political spectators are waiting to see whether Romney will act as a check on President Trump. Romney famously joined the so-called “Never Trump” movement in 2016 and even said nominating him would diminish the “prospects for a safe and prosperous future.”
His criticism continued throughout the campaign but he dialed it back after Trump’s victory. So will he re-visit his contrarian stance in 2019?