TIME’s Class of 2016: The Political Leaders to Watch

3 minute read

As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney fought for the presidency this fall, TIME contract photographer Marco Grob was crisscrossing the country to meet the men and women who may be doing the same four years from now.

From September to October, Grob, a Swiss photographer based in New York, traveled to 10 states and Washington, D.C., to shoot the 13 political leaders who comprise TIME’s Class of 2016 (Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo were photographed earlier this year). “This series was very exciting because the fact that one of these politicians could be the next president was always on my mind,” says Grob, who took a variety of different kinds of shots and snapped extra rolls of photos to memorialize the moment.

Some of the subjects in Grob’s essay are American political royalty. Among the luminaries on TIME’s list are a First Lady (and now Secretary of State), a First Brother, six current and former governors and the current vice-president. Others, like San Antonio mayor Julián Castro and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, are rising stars – members of the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S., men marked for higher office within their parties.

In the space of a single 48-hour stretch, the whirlwind assignment whisked Grob from Palo Alto, Calif., to Columbus, Ohio, to Baton Rouge. None of the subjects hinted at their political aspirations, and Grob preferred not to ask. “I don’t talk to them about their plans. I actually think it’s better if they don’t think I know much about their political careers,” he says. “They feel they can open up more.”

Breaking through that veneer of formality was one of the tasks confronting Grob, whose portfolio of portraits for TIME includes comedians and actors, world leaders and Ground Zero first responders. Politicians are trained are trained to stay on script. Grob’s challenge was to get them to veer from it. “Politicians, of all my subjects, are the most self-aware. They’re careful not to lose any voters, so they don’t get into anything controversial,” he says. His trick? “I always let them smile for a couple frames, but then I aim to make a more thoughtful portrait,” he says. “When you smile, you cover up your true face—that’s just what humans do.”

Alex Altman is a Washington correspondent for TIME. Follow him on Twitter @aaltman82.

Marco Grob is a contract photographer for TIME. View more of his work for TIME here or on his website.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton Secretary of State, former New York Senator, Democrat Iconography: From Wellesley superstar to Watergate staffer, corporate lawyer to First Lady, Senator to Secretary of State, Clinton has raised redemption and reinvention to an art form. Opportunity: Her sure-footed performance as the U.S.’s top diplomat, combined with her husband’s unstinting efforts on President Obama’s behalf, have made the Clintons the un­disputed titans of the party. She has said she will retire from State if Obama wins a second term. Odds: If she runs, she will instantly become the prohibitive front runner.Marco Grob for TIME
Julian Castro
Julián Castro San Antonio mayor, Democrat Fast Track: Raised by a politically active single mother, Castro emerged from Stanford and Harvard Law to become the youngest city councillor in San Antonio history at 26 then, in 2009, the youngest mayor of a top U.S. city. Double Team: In Charlotte, Castro, whose identical twin brother is running for Congress, became the first Latino to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, inviting comparison to Obama’s breakout moment at the 2004 convention. Sound bite: “We all understand that freedom isn’t free ... Neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.”Marco Grob for TIME
Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush Former Florida governor, Republican Pedigree: He was the Bush scion expected to ascend to the nation’s highest office, until his brother got there first. A popular two-term governor, he oversaw job growth and reforms to Florida’s education and Medicaid systems. Moderation: Bush, whose wife is from Mexico, has urged the GOP to adopt a more inclusive tone as the nation’s demographics shift. His views on education, immigration and the environment have made him the dream date of the moderate wing of the party. Help — or handicap: A very familiar last name.Marco Grob for TIME
Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice Former Secretary of State, Republican Odyssey: Descended from sharecroppers, she grew up in the segregated South to become an accomplish pianist, scholar, Stanford provost and, in 2001, National Security Adviser. Inner Circle: As Secretary of State during George W. Bush's second term, she favored a more multilateral approach than Administration hawks did. Prospects: With her experience abroad and her moderate views at home, Rice might bring centrist voters back to the GOP — if she can survive its litmus-test frenzied primaries.Marco Grob for TIME
Joe Biden
Joe Biden Vice President, former Delaware Senator, Democrat Tragedy: Six weeks after his election to the Senate in 1972, when Biden was 29, his wife and infant daughter died in a car wreck; he took his oath of office in a Delaware hospital. Triumph: He went on to serve six terms in the Senate and ran for President twice before Obama tapped him as his running mate in 2008. Biden has been a top White House liaison to both Capitol Hill and Rust Belt Catholics and coined the campaign’s rallying cry “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!” Trademark: Candid to a fault, Biden has a gift of gab and gaffe that makes him the most verbally unpredictable candidate in the field.Marco Grob for TIME
Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo New York governor, Democrat Backstory: The rough-hewn son of a Democratic icon, he was an outspoken housing activist and eventually Bill Clinton’s HUD Secretary. As New York attorney general, Cuomo targeted predatory student-loan practices. Why him: As governor, he has managed to maintain high approval ratings while taking on Albany’s special interests, legalizing same-sex marriage and taming the state’s budget. Backstage: Cuomo has three children with Kerry Kennedy, Robert Kennedy’s daughter; they divorced in 2005, and he now lives with Food Network maven Sandra Lee.Marco Grob for TIME
Chris Christie
Chris Christie New Jersey governor, Republican Career arc: He was appointed U.S. Attorney for his home state by George W. Bush, then became a GOP star after winning the governorship in 2009. Strong suit: Straight talk. His Jersey swagger and YouTube-friendly run-ins with public-­employee unions had supporters begging him to run for President last year. He endorsed Mitt Romney but added some bi­partisan gloss by praising President Obama after Hurricane Sandy. At home: Christie spurned the governor’s mansion to keep his family in their suburban home.Marco Grob for TIME
Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio Florida Senator, Republican Starting point: Born in ­Miami to Cuban émigrés, Rubio was elected to the state house at 28. He stunned Sunshine State observers when he toppled Governor Charlie Crist in the 2010 Republican Senate primary. Juggling act: Rubio is popular among both Tea Partyers and the GOP establishment. His interest in immigration reform and other issues that matter to Hispanics could help him carve inroads in this increasingly Democratic bloc. Cheering section: His wife Jeanette was once a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. They have four kids.Marco Grob for TIME
Martin O'Malley
Martin O'Malley Maryland governor, Democrat The climb: O’Malley has served as a Capitol Hill aide, city-council member and mayor of Baltimore, where his data-driven innovations led TIME to name him one of the top five big-city mayors in 2005. The claim: Elected governor in 2006, he dived into fights over high-profile national issues like same-sex marriage, immigration and deficit reduction. As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, he has spent much of the 2012 campaign as a chief Obama surrogate. Credits: O’Malley was a model for David Simon’s cutthroat Baltimore mayor in The Wire.Marco Grob for TIME
Bobby Jindal
Bobby Jindal Louisiana governor, Republican Backstory: A Rhodes scholar and former McKinsey consultant, he served a stint in George W. Bush’s Administration and was a member of the House before winning the governorship in 2007. Party pleaser: Jindal is a fiscal conservative who opposes abortion and gay marriage. He’s beloved by the GOP base and, as an Indian American, brings a dose of diversity. Name game: His ­given name is Piyush; the nickname Bobby dates back to a childhood identification with that character on The Brady Bunch.Marco Grob for TIME
Kirsten Gillibrand
Kirsten Gillibrand New York Senator, Democrat Starting point: Raised by two lawyers, Gillibrand became one herself, then was elected to Congress. In 2009 she was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Possible hint: Gillibrand invited speculation about higher office when she spoke to an Iowa delegation at the Democratic Convention. But she has publicly urged Clinton to run and would almost certainly stay out of the race if she did. Global view: Gillibrand is fluent in Mandarin and studied in China.Marco Grob for TIME
Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel Chicago mayor, Democrat Backstory: Emanuel made his name as a shrewd, profane adviser in Bill Clinton’s White House. After a brief but lucrative stint as an investment banker, Emanuel was elected to the House from Illinois, then returned to Washington as Obama’s chief of staff. Assets: Known as a hard-boiled pragmatist, Emanuel has experience navigating the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus a formidable fundraising network. Boss: Despite a slate of reforms, Emanuel’s push to tame Chicago was beset by a bitter teachers’ strike and a spiking murder rate.Marco Grob for TIME
Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley South Carolina governor, Republican Journey: The daughter of Sikh immigrants from India, Haley, a converted Christian, endured racial slurs, allegations of marital infidelity, and hostility from some local Republicans but won friends in high places, including Sarah Palin, on her way to becoming the first female governor in South Carolina history — and the youngest in the country. Mandate: A Tea Party favorite, she has slashed Medicaid spending and signed a strict voter-ID law. Mission: Despite her national profile, Haley says her focus is luring jobs to the Palmetto State.Marco Grob for TIME

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Alex Altman at alex_altman@timemagazine.com