With control of the White House turning over in January and the impossibly long election of 2008 slipping into memory, there's a collection of political personalities we'll be hearing less from in the coming year — and whose frequent presence in the news cycle will be sorely missed.
We'll miss their unpredictability, their tell-it-like-it-is TV appearances, or their predilection for conflict and controversy. A few of them are political throwbacks, the likes of which may never be seen again in Washington.
Some of these figures may be back at some point: In politics, goodbye doesn't always mean goodbye. But there's no doubt this cast of characters won't be as ubiquitous in 2009 as it was in 2008, and the world of political theater will be the poorer for it.
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.): The famously off-message Rendell became a cable news fixture during the 2008 cycle, particularly in the six-week run-up to the Keystone State's Democratic presidential primary He's a reporter's dream: a powerful, plugged-in pol who actually speaks his mind.
A staunch backer of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rendell famously caused a stir when he told local media that "there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate" in Pennsylvania. Later, at the Democratic National Convention, Rendell soured the kickoff to his party's unity-fest when he complained about what he called the "embarrassing" pro-Obama tilt in the media.
He's the first to admit that his loose-lipped ways make him a liability in national politics.
We'll surely be hearing from Rendell again — he's already drawn post-election fire for saying homeland security appointee Janet Napolitano has "no life" — but he won't be a daily presence in our lives anymore. One more reason to look forward to 2012, or a Cabinet appointment that will catapult him back into the national spotlight.
Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO reinvented herself this year as a spokeswoman and adviser for the McCain campaign. By the end of the cycle, she'd carved out a role for herself that might be called "mavericky" — sometimes too much so for her candidate's comfort.
Fiorina was a valuable surrogate, on television and on the campaign trail, selling John McCain's economic proposals. But more than once she indulged in what might be called excessive straight talk, first voicing opinions on birth control that clashed with McCain's and later telling MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that Sarah Palin was not qualified to run a major corporation.
Fiorina has already taken steps to maintain an active role in public life, appearing on "Meet the Press" during David Gregory's first turn as the show's host. It remains to be seen how her performance on the campaign trail will affect her future political ambitions.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean: Initially seen as a risky choice for party chair due to his volatile personality, Dean morphed into something of a bland partisan character during his time in Washington. His committee's fundraising numbers were often disappointing, but his 50-state strategy for party development is now seen as a success following the results of 2008.
Dean's departure from the DNC signals a fading of the personalities and debates of the 2004 election cycle, and underscores the sense that a new phase is starting for the Democratic Party. Still, there will always be a place in national politics for a smart, tart-tongued pol like Dean and it's hard to imagine that after a trailblazing presidential campaign and a term as DNC chair Dean will be content to return to a medical practice in Vermont.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska): When he lost reelection on Nov. 4, Stevens wasn't just the longest-serving Republican in Senate history and one of the GOP's most powerful members of Congress. He was also one of Capitol Hill's most colorful personalities, prone to public displays of emotion — usually anger.
In 2005, when Congress moved to strip Alaska of its beloved bridge to nowhere funding, Stevens vowed to resign from the Senate. In 2006, Stevens took to the Senate floor after Congress defeated an attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, wearing an Incredible Hulk tie and threatening his colleagues: "I'm going to go to every one of your states and I'm going to tell them what you've done."
When Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) rose to counter Stevens, it resulted in what "The Daily Show" called a "coot-off." But with Stevens convicted of corruption and cast out by the voters of Alaska, it might be a while before Americans see another.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden: Once he's sworn into national office, the loquacious senator from Delaware will have to exercise a level of self-restraint that will not come easy to a man who has spent 36 of his 66 years in the United States Senate. He's off to a good start though, waiting 47 days before giving his first post-election interview.
That kind of discipline will be something new for Biden, whose proclivity for off-color and off-the-cuff remarks have led to his reputation as a gaffe machine. Anybody remember that "articulate and bright and clean" comment? How about "generated crisis"? Or "Barack America"?
We certainly do and, God love ya, we're going to miss the improvisations and spontaneity enabled by a safe Senate seat.
Vice President Dick Cheney: How many politicians, in either party, would respond to a tough question about public disapproval of foreign policy by asking, "So what?"?
And how many would tell a senior senator to "go f***" himself," as Cheney notoriously did to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in 2004? Proving his old-school ways, just last weekend the vice president said Leahy "merited it at the time." Now that's what we call straight talk.
For better or worse, Cheney has personified the cold-blooded, do-whatever-it-takes side of the Bush administration. Loathed by liberals and largely hidden from public view, the secretive Cheney's influence over the policies of the past eight years may never be fully understood.
He may not miss the political arena, but it will miss him, since it will likely be a long time before we have another vice president so seemingly insouciant about his public image.
Alan Colmes: After more than a decade as Sean Hannity's sparring partner on Fox News, Colmes is throwing in the towel. The "Hannity and Colmes" co-host has taken more than a few blows in his day, becoming an object of scorn not only for conservatives, but also for liberals who have called him a flimsy counterpart to his hard-hitting conservative rival.
America will miss Alan Colmes for a number of reasons. Like Cheney and Howard Dean, he seems tied up in a political moment that's passing. And after a dozen years with a prominent platform on national television, Colmes's personality still seems so undefined. Will we ever get a chance to know this man?
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.): After teasing the media with musings on a possible 2008 presidential campaign (remember the incomprehensible Omaha press conference where he announced that he would later announce something?), Hagel passed on a bid and retired from his Senate seat at the end of his second term. Then, after a trip to Iraq with Barack Obama fueled speculation about a cross-party presidential endorsement, Hagel kept silent in the general election (though his wife, Lilibet, endorsed the Democratic ticket).
Hagel, whose friendship with McCain deteriorated as a result of disagreements on the Iraq war, may have one or two more political strip-teases in store for us. But by leaving the Senate, he's depriving the chamber of a true maverick, the rare pol who could draw mention as a vice presidential prospect for George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg.
Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.): We'll miss Jefferson, though not nearly as much as congressional Republicans will. No matter how many of their own were under an ethical cloud, they could always point to Bill Jefferson as an example of how corruption was a bipartisan pastime.
And let's face it — his case was a doozy, something even Nancy Pelosi once acknowledged. "Anybody with $90,000 in their freezer has a problem," she said in 2006.
Still, Jefferson soldiered on, winning reelection in 2006 and nearly pulling it off again in 2008. While the long shot who defeated him in Louisiana's 2nd District, Anh "Joseph" Cao, is himself a compelling story, it's hard to see how Cao could keep us as mesmerized as Jefferson.
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.): This was the year that Charlie Brown finally kicked the football. Ahab caught the white whale. Sisyphus got to the top of the hill. The impossible finally happened: After years of targeting him, Democrats defeated Chris Shays, the last Republican House member from New England.
With Shays gone from Connecticut's 4th District, the press will have to find a new token Republican moderate. And the media will need to look elsewhere for agonized public statements about contentious legislation and angst-filled pronouncements about the future of the Republican Party.
Speculation has already started about a possible Senate bid down the line, but Shays has said he doesn't "see [himself] running for any office." If we know Shays, he'll reconsider that statement — publicly — but unfortunately for now, the thoughful veteran legislator will be dropping out of public view.