No One Still Watches Politico's Former 'Politicos to Watch'

In light of the release of Politico's 2013 "50 Politicos to Watch" list, we decided to look at how Politico's past prognostications panned out.

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Since shortly after its founding, politics website Politico has created a list of "50 Politicos to Watch," a generic sort of listicle largely meant to figure out how to get the friends of 50 people in D.C. to share an article on LinkedIn. In light of the release of the 2013 list, we decided to look at how Politico's past prognostications panned out.

The best way to measure how much these "politicos" are being watched, we figured, was to track Google News mentions. So we compiled each year's nominees from 2009 to 2012, sorted them by the categories in which they were placed by Politico, and did some Googling. What we learned, in overview:

  • The average Politico "person to watch" has been mentioned 1,815 in the news so far this year.
  • The most someone has been mentioned is 46,000 times—Hollywood's Jane Lynch, who got a nod last year for some reason. (More on this below.)
  • The least? Zero. Thirty-one of the 200 "politicos to watch" have not made the news at all this year.
  • Of the 11 people featured as watch-worthy because they were running for Congress, three won.
  • Over the four years, the assigned category with the most media mentions was 2012's "New Hollywood," which is cheating. Second place: "New players in a second Obama term," also in 2012.
  • The category with the least? A tie: 2011's "Top Tweeters," and 2009's aptly-named "Dead men walking." (Why would they be ones to watch?)

The best year for Politico's watchees was last year—though, again, they cheated by including celebrities. Without the celebs, 2012's average drops to 1,864 per person.

And now, the years.


2009 is our favorite "Politicos to Watch," because it was also back when Politico was trying to claim everyone as a "politico." So all of the "Politicos to Watch" got sorted into categories describing their Politico-ness.

In decreasing order of Google News mentions:

  • Politicos of the Fourth Estate, 9,629 average mentions
  • Outside-the-Beltway politicos, 5,540 average mentions
  • Second-wave politicos, 4,846 average mentions
  • Under-the-radar politicos, 1,263 average mentions
  • Loose cannons, 1,238 average mentions
  • Politicos on the rise, 745 average mentions
  • Rookies of the year, 360 average mentions
  • Politicos on the ropes, 200 average mentions
  • Politico mischief-makers, 143 average mentions
  • Politico job gurus, 83 average mentions
  • Rainmaking politicos, 70 average mentions
  • Blasting politicos, 32 average mentions
  • Dead men walking, 0 average mentions

The 2009 award winner with the most mentions this year was Charles Krauthammer. Congratulations, Charles. The least came from the categories of "Politico mischief-makers" and "Politico job gurus." The 2009 crew contained a couple of recent Cabinet nominees, which boosted the numbers, as well as one current governor with a predilection for gift-receiving ("Outside-the-Beltway politicos").

It also pegged Rep. John Murtha as one of the "Politicos on the ropes;" Murtha died the following February. The angels are watching him now.


In 2010, everyone was categorized as an action verb. Several were deemed "game changers," in honor of the year's best-known political book. (Because it generally treated Politico very kindly; there were no "This Town"-ers in 2013.)

  • New administration faces, 3,990 average mentions
  • Top 2012 staffer gets, 3,713 average mentions
  • Instant GOP stars, 1,652 average mentions
  • The scenemakers, 1,159 average mentions
  • The game changers, 650 average mentions
  • The freshmen, 409 average mentions
  • The Obama generation, 248 average mentions
  • Media stars, 131 average mentions
  • The fixers, 17 average mentions
  • The anointed, 10 average mentions
  • Next-generation military, 2 average mentions

In a bad year for the ones to watch, the top-news getter was a Congressional staffer named … Anne Hathaway. So the results might be a little tainted. Second place went to Chuck Hagel. Two of the three "anointed" people have not been in the news so far in 2013.


By now, Politico was getting excited about the upcoming presidential race. Which, sad to say, may have inspired it to tap people who might not have a lot of longevity. It also added a new category—"Top Tweeters"—with a few questionable choices. Do you follow @auctnr1? No? It's Rep. Billy Long. He was a top tweeter.

  • Bloggers, 1,497 average mentions
  • Convention fixers, 1,029 average mentions
  • Television faces, 701 average mentions
  • Early state players, 195 average mentions
  • Congressional challengers, 181 average mentions
  • White House deans, 50 average mentions
  • Litigators, 4 average mentions
  • Fundraisers, 2 average mentions
  • Top Tweeters, 0 average mentions

Even the top-ranked category, bloggers, would have come in fourth in any of the preceding years. And that category only did best now because its members 1) literally generate Google News results daily as part of their jobs and 2) includes WPRI's Ted Nesi, who was fairly unknown around our office. Nesi was the most-mentioned 2011 person so far this year. No one is writing about the "Litigators" or "Fundraisers" any more.


Having already gotten the boring campaign people out of the way, Politico felt free to explore the alternate histories of either presidential victor's incoming White House. So we got "Players in a Romney presidency" (average mentions in 2013: 137) and "New players in a second Obama term." And then there was the pandering: 10 of the 50 were celebrities or media people. And another new category: Lobbyists. Politico picked out five lobbyists "to watch." (That category came in last.)

  • New Hollywood, 20,803 average mentions
  • New players in a second Obama term, 7,920 average mentions
  • State pols on the verge of national prominence, 4,510 average mentions
  • Swing-state media players, 2,431 average mentions
  • Congressional challengers, 1,024 average mentions
  • POLITICO Pro players, 146 average mentions
  • Players in a Romney presidency, 137 average mentions
  • Political operatives, 128 average mentions
  • 501(c)(4) operatives, 100 average mentions
  • Lobbyists, 7 average mentions

Setting aside well-known actors, the best-known watchees from 2012 were State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. (See: McDonnell, Bob, above.) Those who were least watched in the news this year? Those lobbyists and two categories of operatives.

Which, for us, clarified things. These aren't lists of who the world is meant to watch. It's who Politico is going to watch. In that light, all 200 of these people are winners.

Picture: 2012 Politico to Watch Kid Rock (category: "New Hollywood"). (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.