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The Top 10 risers of the decade

From NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro
Yesterday, we listed our Top 10 political downfalls of the decade. Today, in the Christmas spirit, we look at the risers -- today's prominent politicians (many with bright futures), who we didn't know at the beginning of the decade. This was a harder list to come up with than our downfall one. Below are our thoughts. What are yours?

1. Barack Obama: Need we say more?

2. Sarah Palin: You could make an argument that she deserves to be on our downfall list instead -- given her resignation earlier this year -- but going from the mayor of Wasilla, to Alaska governor, then to the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2008 is a quite a rise. Not to mention, she has quite the influence with activist conservatives, and did we mention she's now a millionaire? No matter if Palin never runs for the presidency, she is the nation's biggest political celebrity, other than Obama of course.

3. Bobby Jindal: Yes, he had a bad response to Obama's State of the Union, but the Rhodes Scholar is just 38 years old. Chalk it up as a MINOR setback for his national ambitions. He has a reputation for being a good executive, has lots of money in the bank, and represents something that's currently lacking in the Republican Party -- diversity.

4. Chuck Schumer: While he first got elected in the '90s (1998), there's probably no Democrat with more skins on the wall. How many total Senate seats did he help Democrats pick up as head of the DSCC again? (The answer is 14.) There's no doubt about it: He's the rising star of the Senate. And chew on this... If Harry Reid loses his re-election, and Dems hold their majority, Schumer vs. Durbin would be an interesting race for majority leader, no?

5. Marco Rubio: Some might say he's too high on this list -- and he still has a difficult primary to win -- but Rubio has instantly turned into a conservative star in his Senate fight against Charlie Crist. Conservatives see him as the GOP version of Barack Obama. But first, he's got to beat Crist, which won't be easy...

6. John Thune: He was a little-known South Dakota congressman at the beginning of the decade. He ran against Sen. Tim Johnson (D) and lost -- barely. Then he ran again and beat Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle. And now he is one of the Republican Party's biggest (and most telegenic) stars. Will he run for president in 2012?

7. Eric Cantor: No current Republican congressman has risen so far, so fast. Elected just nine years ago, Cantor now serves as the No. 2 figure in the House leadership. He is just 46.

8. Tim Kaine: Kaine began the decade as a little-known mayor of Richmond and as then lieutenant governor. But his 2005 gubernatorial victory in Virginia ended up serving as a model for future Democratic campaigns in 2006 to 2008. And that win -- as well as his three-plus years as governor -- catapulted him as VP finalist last year. He's now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. What's next?

9. Bob McDonnell: As was the case with Kaine's gubernatorial victory in Virginia in 2005, Republican Bob McDonnell -- who won this year's VA Gov contest -- has become an instant star in his party. And assuming he enjoys success as governor, McDonnell will be an automatic VP possibility (or higher?), given that Virginia is a must-win presidential battleground state for Republicans.

10. Brian Schweitzer: He started the decade narrowly losing a Senate race against GOP incumbent Conrad Burns. He then became governor of Montana in 2004. Will the bolo-tie-wearing governor run for president in 2016? He's 54.

Honorable Mentions: Paul Ryan, Jon Huntsman, Claire McCaskill, Mark Warner, Jim Webb.