GOP businessman Vance McAllister enjoyed an upset on Saturday, when the underdog defeated Republican state Sen. Neil Riser by a massive 20-point margin.
To the surprise of some Republicans, McAllister will be sworn in this week as the representative for Louisiana’s 5th District. The 39-year-old had never run for office before the special election, which was held to replace former GOP Rep. Rodney Alexander, who retired earlier this year.
McAllister’s newcomer status led Republicans to consider him a long shot to defeat Riser — a state legislator with strong ties to GOP power brokers including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
But the self-made businessman picked up momentum in the contest by portraying himself as a political outsider. A last-minute advertisement featuring an endorsement from Willie Robertson — a star on the “Duck Dynasty” reality television series based in Louisiana— didn’t hurt either.
Speaker John A. Boehner’s office has not yet announced a day and time for McAllister’s swearing-in. In the meantime, here are eight things to know about the newest member of Congress:
1. True to his political “outsider” mantle, McAllister has never stepped foot in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve never been to Washington a day in my life,” he said in a Monday morning phone interview with CQ Roll Call. He added that a sense of mutual respect can help fix the gridlock in Congress.
“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, I want everyone to know that I’m here, we’ll talk, we’ll visit,” McAllister said. “I want everybody to know I’m approachable. I’m a true conservative, but I’m an American first.”
2. McAllister met the Robertsons — the family that stars in “Duck Dynasty” — before their A&E series became the most-watched reality show on cable television. The Robertsons live in the 5th District, and their backing helped McAllister define his candidacy early in the under-the-radar, low turnout special election.
“We’re just good, common friends and had a lot of the same likes and interests and built that relationship,” McAllister said of the friendship. “When I told Willie I was thinking of running for Congress, he said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”
3. He will be one of 86 veterans serving in the House, according to a CQ Roll Call tally. McAllister joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1992 and did a tour in Korea.
When McAllister came back to the United States, he finished his service requirement in the Louisiana National Guard. He attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe but never graduated. Instead, he left college to work for Mustang Engineering Inc., an on- and offshore drilling construction company.
4. McAllister’s business portfolio is as diverse as it is vast. He started in 2005 by building a successful pipeline construction company.
“I had an entrepreneurial spirit, and started branching out from there,” McAllister said.
Since then, he has started several other business ventures: He owns Subway sandwich and Fox Pizza franchises, construction equipment rental companies, convenience stores and even a promotion company for wrestling, mixed martial arts fights and other sports.
5. His promotion company advertises a kids football camp for former New Orleans’ Saints wide receiver Michael Lewis.
The camp teaches fundamental football skills and “trade secrets of professional football” to kids ages 9 to 17, according to its website.
Lewis played for the Saints from 2001 until 2006 and currently serves as the team’s ambassador.
6. As a businessman, McAllister’s politics are in line with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, according to an interview with The Town Talk, a local media outlet.
He did not support the GOP’s role in the government shutdown, but he does want to repeal the health care law known as Obamacare.
7. His bid for the 5th District was almost entirely self-funded. McAllister spent more than $400,000 of his personal wealth on the race. He raised an additional $68,000 from individuals, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
8. On weekends, McAllister has Sunday breakfast with his wife, Kelly Duncan, and five children — Anna Claire Rogers, Emilie Kathryn McAllister, Duncan Michael McAllister, Vance Michael McAllister II (aka “Deuce McAllister”) and Eva Grave McAllister.
It’s a tradition he says he will continue when he comes to Congress.
“We have Sunday morning breakfast before church,” McAllister said. “I don’t do the dishes, but I do cook. I’m the griller.”