5. Marco Rubio
The junior senator from Florida has been serving in the Senate since 2011. The Cuban-American Miami native was a top contender for the vice presidential nomination in 2012, a position that ultimately went to Paul Ryan. Rubio has been a vocal Republican voice on immigration reform and one of only a handful of Hispanic Republican senators. He is the only Hispanic Republican senator currently serving, although he will be joined by Ted Cruz in January. Should he choose to run for president in 2016, he may provide the link to Hispanics that his party is desperately seeking following their poor showing with Latinos in the 2012 presidential election.
Rubio has been a vocal advocate for immigration reform. He spent the early part of 2012 trying to develop a bill that would have given legal residency to young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents. He later sidelined such efforts after Obama's deferred action announcement. Unlike the DREAM Act that many Democrats support, Rubio opposes a special pathway to citizenship, such as amnesty.
He said in early December that he thinks Congress should pass a series of bills that help foreign entrepreneurs, technology workers, agricultural workers and children brought to the country illegally. He has also said issues such as employment verification of legal status and border security need to be addressed.
Rubio also hasn't been shy about criticizing anti-immigration rhetoric within his own party either.
"Unfortunately I think the Republican Party for many years allowed itself to be positioned as the anti-illegal immigration party," he has said. "What we really need to be is the pro-legal immigration party."
Young undocumented immigrants – people who can't cast ballots – had an undeniable political impact this year. They successfully pushed the Obama administration into enacting deportation relief through deferred action, and have held widely covered rallies around the country in locations as diverse as Los Angeles and Kansas City. TIME even nominated undocumented immigrants to be their "Person of the Year."
And following an abysmal showing among Latino and other minority voters, the Republican Party has begun speaking about the need for immigration reform, with some conservative pundits even arguing for a path to citizenship for undocumented people, an idea that has previously been decried as amnesty by the party.
Youth-led movements such as United We DREAM have gained traction, with politicians on both sides of the aisle taking notice. Look for DREAMers to continue to be a vocal voice in the immigration debate this coming year.
7. Paul Ryan
Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan was relatively unknown before clinching the Republican vice presidential nomination that catapulted him to national recognition.
The self-proclaimed "numbers guy" hit the campaign trail with a vengeance after Mitt Romney named him as a running mate, slamming Obama for failing to fix the economy.
He serves as current chair of the House Budget Committee, a position he will continue to hold in the next Congress.
Ryan has advocated for education reform, such as tightening the eligibility for Pell Grants, and a voucher system for Medicare. He opposed Obama's healthcare overhaul, although he voted in favor of the auto bailout.
He has also made it clear he opposes the DREAM Act and says it treats a symptom, not the root of the immigration problem.
"We must first secure the border and stem the flow of illegal immigration, and then work to increase legal immigration through an enforceable guest worker program and by developing a more secure employee verification system. I believe it would be a serious mistake to pursue piecemeal reforms like the DREAM Act without first putting in place these fundamental components of immigration reform," reads a statement on his House webpage.
8. Grover Norquist
His wasn't a name heard much in the beginning of the year, but Grover Norquist has become a much-referenced figure as the "fiscal cliff" looms. The president of the Americans for Tax Reform is a vocal critic of increasing taxes for even the wealthiest Americans, something Democrats and President Obama advocate.
His "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which opposed increasing taxes and the elimination of deductions and credits without a matching reduced tax rate, was signed by nearly all Republican members of Congress.
The fiscal cliff and the need for compromise across party lines has led some Republicans to criticize Norquist's cut-and-dry demands. Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) of the Bowles-Simpson Commission has been particularly critical of Norquist's rigidity.
Norquist has advocated reducing the size of government as well, quipping, "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
"I hope he slips in there with it," quipped the 81-year-old Simpson.
While he's undeniably a divisive figure, Norquist has incredible influence among Republicans (Exhibit A: his Taxpayer Protection Pledge), especially when it comes to the fiscal cliff issues dominating the end-of-the-year political landscape.
9. Eva Longoria
This actress is more than just a pretty face in Hollywood. Longoria has thrown her weight behind President Obama, serving as co-chair of his re-election campaign and speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Longoria served as one of the most prominent Latino "bundlers" for Obama, contributing the maximum amount of nearly $36,000 to his campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and then collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from others.
She also served as a vocal liaison between the campaign and the Latino community. According to a recent Washington Post article, Longoria spearheaded an effort called the Futuro Fund, which contributed at least $30 million toward the president's re-election.
Longoria was recently named a co-chair of Obama's inauguration committee.