A beekeeper, a Gitmo commander and a Bosnian war refugee all want the same thing. It’s not a riddle; it’s the 2014 election cycle.
Congressional candidates often boast a résumé that includes time in local office, terms in the legislature or experience running a business. It’s a formula that instantly boosts name identification with voters.
But the cast of congressional candidates usually offers some upstarts — people with an unusual background, a unique curriculum vitae or an unconventional motivation that gives them a shot at Congress.
Of course, a special résumé does not translate to victory. Several of last cycle’s most-hyped candidates — including Ret. Air Force Col. Martha E. McSally, an Arizona Republican, and former astronaut Jose M. Hernandez, a California Democrat — lost their House races, to Ron Barber and Jeff Denham, respectively. (McSally is running again in 2014).
But an out-of-the-box background can help a candidate break through a tough field. Just ask the former world champion USA Volleyball team member, the double-amputee war hero or the reindeer farmer who won House races last cycle.
In no special order, here are several of this election’s most fascinating candidates for Congress:
The former Miss America is a Republican challenging Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., in the competitive 13th District in the middle of the state.
In 2003, Harold won the country’s most famous beauty pageant with an anti-bullying platform, which she says came from personal experience as a target for racism and sexual harassment — her ancestry is black, Native American, Greek, German, Welsh and Russian. She is taking on an incumbent Republican who narrowly won in a district that split evenly in the 2012 presidential race.
After the pageant, Harold graduated from Harvard Law School. In 2012, she jumped into the GOP scramble after Republican incumbent Timothy V. Johnson suddenly retired after he won his primary election. Local party leaders picked Davis for the ballot instead.
Her chances: Not great. Although Republicans are attracted to her candidacy as the party looks to add diversity to its ranks on Capitol Hill, they are puzzled by the timing of her bid. Republican leaders are squarely behind Davis. And Harold posted a lackluster second-quarter fundraising numbers, raising doubts about her viability in a contest against Davis, a financial powerhouse.
This former top quarterback, a Republican, aims to unseat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in the 9th District outside Phoenix.
Walter starred for Arizona State University — located in the neighboring district — before the Oakland Raiders picked him in the third round of the 2005 draft. While in college, he broke several Pacific-10 Conference records, including the most career touchdowns and yards passing in a single game.
Unfortunately for Walter, his short stint with the National Football League disappointed by comparison. He returned to Arizona and started a financial holding company.
Walter is hardly the first former NFL player who has tried to come to Capitol Hill, although Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., is the only one currently in Congress. But he faces a similarly interesting opponent in Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress.
His chances: If Walter makes it through a competitive primary against Wendy Rogers, who ran an unsuccessful race for the nomination in 2012, and other potential candidates who are said to be mulling bids, he has a shot of winning the district. It gave President Barack Obama a 4-percentage-point edge over Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
A farmer whose top livestock is bees, the Democrat is challenging Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., in California’s 10th District.
Eggman, the brother of a state lawmaker, owns his family’s farm in Turlock, Calif., including about 2,000 hives of “happy bees,” according to its website. The self-described member of the “beekeeper mafia” also grows almonds.
The family name is carried not only by Eggman Bee Farm, but also by his sister, Susan Eggman, in the state assembly.
His chances: Not bad. Eggman is a favorite of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, so he’ll have help with fundraising and strategy — key for a political newcomer. He’s looking to oust Denham, one of 17 House Republicans who represent a district that Obama carried (51-47) in 2012.
A former sheriff and retired major general in the Army National Guard, Cannon would be one of the few members left in Congress who served in Vietnam. First, he must win his bid as a Democrat challenging Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., in the state’s northern 1st District.
A decade ago, Cannon was stationed in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a commander at the controversial detention camp that Obama has vowed to shutter. If Cannon were to win, he would be the first member of Congress to have firsthand experience working at the prison.
Cannon served multiple tours in Iraq, where he helped train Iraqi law enforcement officers before retiring from the military in 2012. He currently teaches criminal justice at Northwestern Michigan College.
His chances: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula area is competitive territory, and Cannon has the kind of background that would appeal there. Benishek is considered vulnerable after winning by a 1-percentage-point margin last cycle. Romney carried the district 54-45.
While he has political experience in Nebraska, serving state treasurer from 2006 until 2011, this Republican was already famous. Now he’s running for the open Senate seat to be vacated by Republican Mike Johanns, who is retiring.
Osborn was the pilot of a spy plane that was hit mid-flight in 2001 by a Chinese fighter. With its nose ripped off, the American aircraft plunged toward the Pacific Ocean.
Osborn helped the plane land safely, but he and his 23-member crew were detained and interrogated by the Chinese for 10 days before they were returned to the United States. In interviews, Osborn described six-hour-long interrogation sessions, sleep depravation and isolation.
Following the crash, Osborn was featured in People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” issue. He was described as a “gentleman” who “holds doors, pays the check and does everything right for women.”
His chances: Pretty good. If Osborn makes it to the general election, his chances of victory would be good in a state that gave Romney 60.5 percent in 2012. Two lesser-known Republicans, Midland University President Ben Sasse and attorney Bart McLeay, are also running.
The first female graduate of The Citadel, Mace is challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for the GOP nomination. The military college, one of six in the U.S., was forced to go coed in the mid-1990s following a Supreme Court ruling.
Mace was in the first class of women at the college and graduated a year early. She wrote a 2001 book about her experience titled “In the Company of Men: A Woman at The Citadel.” She now owns a small public affairs firm in the Palmetto State.
Her chances: Slim. Mace might have a unique background, but she is challenging a incumbent with more than $6.3 million in the bank with the primary still almost a year away. And the Republican field already is crowded. Even if no candidate gets the 50 percent required in the primary to avoid a runoff, the Republican challenger’s funds will likely be depleted before an expected one-on-one race against Graham. The seat is considered safe Republican, with Romney finishing 10 points ahead of Obama in 2012.
Kajtazovic is competing in the open-seat race in Iowa’s northeast 1st District to succeed Democrat Bruce Braley, who is running for the Senate.
At the age of 10, Kajtazovic and her family escaped a refugee camp in warn-torn Bosnia to immigrate to the United States. Less than 15 years later, at age 24, she was elected to Iowa’s state House. She’s the only Bosnian-American to serve in elected office in the United States, according to her campaign.
Her chances: Kajtazovic faces a crowded primary with at least four other Democratic candidates. In this case, her compelling life story could help her stand out.
The Democratic nominee should fare well in the general election in this district, which is the bluest of Iowa’s four House seats. Obama carried the district by 14 percentage points.
A Democrat with a surname well-known in Georgia politics, Nunn is running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Republican Saxby Chambliss.
Until announcing her candidacy, Nunn ran a nonpartisan nonprofit inspired by former President George Bush — the Points of Light Foundation, which mobilizes volunteers for service projects.
She is the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat who represented Georgia from 1972 until 1997. Typically, political scion status in the South has been reserved for males. But Nunn is one of a few female descendents of famous names running this cycle, including attorney Gwen Graham, daughter of former governor and senator Bob Graham, in Florida’s 2nd District.
Her chances: Nunn’s outlook is almost entirely dependent on who wins the crowded Republican primary. The varied and unpredictable GOP field includes businessmen, a former statewide officeholder and a few House members. Her best shot may be if a controversial conservative such as Rep. Paul Broun reaches the general election. But even if Nunn faces Broun, she would have to run a near-perfect campaign to win in a state that backed Romney 53-45 percent.