The New Members of the Senate
Ken Salazar (D)
Occupation: State attorney general
Salazar defeated brewing magnate Pete Coors (R) on Tuesday to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Salazar’s victory helped Democrats reclaim a Senate seat that had been lost to them since 1995, when Campbell switched to the GOP.
Salazar comes to Capitol Hill with a high profile, given his status as only one of two Senators of Hispanic heritage serving in the chamber. Senate Democratic leaders are likely to turn to Salazar to help strengthen their political ties to this influential demographic.
Salazar led from the outset and held on when the race tightened at the end. Each candidate accused the other of running a negative campaign.
Salazar has not revealed his preferences for committee assignments. He might seek a seat on Energy and Natural Resources or Agriculture, two panels of importance for Senators from Western states. And as a lawyer, Salazar could seek a seat on the Judiciary Committee.
Salazar’s Colorado colleague, Sen. Wayne Allard (R), is currently assigned to the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Armed Services Committee, which makes it highly unlikely that Salazar would seek appointment to these panels.
Salazar was born in Alamosa, Colo., and he proudly notes in his campaign biography that his family has consisted of “ranchers and farmers in the San Luis Valley since before Colorado was a state.” Trained as a lawyer, Salazar has worked as a farmer and a rancher and is the owner of a Dairy Queen in Westminster. Before he was elected attorney general in 1998, Salazar served in the Cabinet of then-Gov. Roy Romer (D) as both chief legal counsel to the governor and executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
He received a bachelor’s in political science from Colorado College in 1977 and a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1981.
Salazar lives in Denver with his wife, Hope, and daughters Melinda and Andrea.
Mel Martinez (R)
Occupation: Attorney, former Housing and Urban Development secretary
Martinez’s Senate victory caps a life story once described by President Bush as the “embodiment of the American dream.”
Martinez was among roughly 14,000 Cuban children who escaped the Communist-controlled island in 1961 through “Operation Peter Pan,” a program run by the Catholic church. Exactly 40 years later, he became Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, before leaving to run for Senate.
The victory gives Florida its first Republican Senator since Connie Mack retired four years ago. Behind Martinez’s victory was the candidate’s apparent success in painting opponent Betty Castor (D), a former state education commissioner, as insufficiently committed to fighting terrorism.
Martinez, who graduated from Florida State University in Tallahassee, practiced law for a number of years and became a successful trial attorney before mounting a successful bid in 1998 for Orange County chairman. He has served on a number of civic boards, chairing both the Orlando Housing Authority and the Orlando Utilities Commission.
Martinez has not said much about his committee preferences.
He and his wife, Kathryn, who is known as Kitty, have three children, Lauren, John and Andrew, as well as two grandchildren.
Johnny Isakson (R)
Occupation: House Member
In his third attempt at winning statewide office Isakson finally saw success this year, cruising to victory last week against Rep. Denise Majette (D), whose long-shot campaign never gained any traction.
When Sen. Zell Miller (D) announced he would not seek another term just days after the start of the 108th Congress, Isakson immediately tossed his hat into the race.
His greatest test then came in the three-way July primary where the more moderate Isakson’s goal was to avoid a runoff by exceeding the 50 percent mark. In the primary, he faced fellow Rep. Mac Collins and former Godfather’s Pizza magnate Herman Cain.
While Collins’ campaign never got any real momentum, Cain drew a loyal following among Christian conservatives. Still, Isakson defied conventional wisdom (and his previous inability to win a 1996 Senate runoff) by winning 53 percent of the vote.
Isakson was elected to Congress in 1999, winning a six-candidate special election to replace former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) with 65 percent of the vote.
His political career began in the early 1970s and he was elected to the state House in 1976, as fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter (D) won the White House. From 1983 to 1990, he served as Minority Leader in the House, before losing the governor’s race to Miller in 1990. Three years later Isakson won a seat in the state Senate.
In 1996, he jumped into the race to succeed then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D). Isakson lost again, this time in the GOP runoff.
After that defeat, Isakson was appointed by Miller to chair the state Board of Education, a position he held until he was elected to Congress.
In the House, Isakson has served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Education panel, and he is likely to seek similar assignments in the Senate.
Isakson graduated from the University of Georgia in 1966 and served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966 to 1972.
He has been married to his wife, Dianne, for 36 years and the couple has three children and four grandchildren.
Barack Obama (D)
Occupation: State Senator, attorney
Obama will need little introduction when he arrives on Capitol Hill since he already splashed onto the national political scene in July, when he gave the prime time keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
He will be only the third black Senator to serve in the chamber since Reconstruction. The Senate has been without a black Member since 1998, when then-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) was defeated for the seat Obama just won.
While Obama’s victory last week over former presidential candidate and conservative talk show host Alan Keyes long has been a foregone conclusion, his ability to win the crowded March Democratic primary initially was far from a sure thing.
When he first entered the race, Obama faced questions about whether he could raise enough money to be competitive, not to mention some doubt that voters would embrace someone whose name rhymes with Osama.
Still, Obama cobbled together a strong coalition consisting of education and labor leaders and support from the black and progressive communities and took a convincing 53 percent of the vote.
Obama has served in the state Senate since 1997. In 2000, he challenged Rep. Bobby Rush (D) in a primary — a move that angered some black community leaders. He fell far short though, getting 30 percent of the vote to Rush’s 61 percent.
The son of a white Kansas-born mother and a black Kenyan father, Obama grew up primarily with his grandparents in Hawaii. He was named for his father, and Barack means “blessed by God” in Swahili.
In his 1995 autobiography, “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” he admits to recreational drug use, both marijuana and cocaine, as a teenager. The book has been reprinted and spent eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list after Obama’s convention speech.
After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in political science, Obama became a community organizer in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he served as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. As an attorney, Obama specialized in civil rights, voting rights and employment discrimination cases. He also has taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters: Malia, 6, and Sasha, 3.
David Vitter (R)
Occupation: House Member, attorney
Sometimes it helps to be in the right place at the right time, and Vitter was fortunate to face two high-profile Democratic candidates — Rep. Chris John and state Treasurer John Kennedy — in the race to replace retiring Sen. John Breaux (D).
Instead of mounting a sustained assault on Vitter, John and Kennedy spent most of the contest attacking each other, and in the end the Republican was able to win 51 percent of the vote and avoid a December runoff. He will be the first Republican Senator from Louisiana since Reconstruction.
Vitter was able to overcome a similarly crowded race when he was elected to the House in 1999 in a special election to replace Rep. Bob Livingston (R). In that contest, Vitter made it into a runoff with the party establishment’s preferred candidate, David Treen (R), and then was able to squeak into office by two points, 51-49.
In the House, Vitter has been a reliably conservative vote and has been able to bring federal funding to Louisiana through his post on the Appropriations Committee. He has also been active on military issues.
Prior to his election to Congress, Vitter spent seven and a half years in the Louisiana state House. He also worked as an attorney and an adjunct law professor at Tulane University and Loyola University.
Born in New Orleans, Vitter earned his bachelor’s from Harvard University, a law degree from Tulane and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.
Vitter and his wife, Wendy, have four children aged 11 and under.
Richard Burr (R)
Occupation: House Member, sales manager
For Burr, the path to victory in 2004 led through Tobacco Road.
In one of the hardest-fought races of the cycle, the five-term House Member beat former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles in the race to replace Sen. John Edwards (D).
The contest was close right down to the wire, with the Democrat leading in many polls for several months. In the end, though, Burr was able to effectively tar Bowles for his past service in the Clinton White House.
Perhaps most significantly, Burr reaped the political benefits after Congress included a tobacco buyout crucial to North Carolina farmers in the recently passed corporate tax bill. While both candidates tried to take credit for the buyout, Burr was a conferee on the tax measure and made the most of it.
Burr was born in Charlottesville, Va., and moved to North Carolina to earn his bachelor’s at Wake Forest University. Before entering politics, he worked for 17 years at the wholesaling firm Carswell Distributing, eventually rising to the post of sales manager.
Burr lost his first run for the House in 1992 before winning two years later. He served on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Intelligence Committee in the House.
Burr and his wife, Brooke, have two sons, the 19-year-old Tyler and 18-year-old William.
Tom Coburn (R)
Occupation: Obstetrician, former House Member
Coburn comes to the Senate after a contentious campaign with Democratic Rep. Brad Carson. Although most polls suggested that the race would be close, Coburn prevailed by 12 points in Republican Oklahoma.
Carson, a conservative Democrat, hounded Coburn with ads that publicized allegations that Coburn, a practicing physician and obstetrician, improperly sterilized a 20-year-old woman 14 years ago and may have committed Medicaid fraud in the process. Coburn denied the charges, saying he had the woman’s oral consent.
Coburn also was dogged by embarrassing statements that made him appear like an extremist, such as his statement that lesbianism was rampant in Oklahoma public schools and that doctors who perform abortions should get the death penalty.
However, Coburn won by highlighting his maverick reputation from his years in the House, where he served from 1995 to 2001. Coburn branded himself a “citizen legislator” and did not run for re-election in 2000 because he had pledged to serve no more than three terms.
Despite his short House tenure, Coburn set himself apart from other Republican Members by eschewing the party leadership. In 1997, Coburn took part in a plan to oust then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) from power, because he felt, as did others, that Gingrich had not stuck to the conservative ideals he espoused in 1994’s “Contract With America.”
As an ardent opponent of unrestrained federal spending, Coburn also was known to publicly speak out against Republican-negotiated spending plans with the Clinton administration, and he embarrassed House leaders by trying to block a cost-of-living pay raise for Members of Congress. He later wrote a book blasting the mores of Washington, D.C.
Coburn nevertheless was considered a reliable conservative Republican, voting with his party an average of 90 percent of the time while he was in Congress.
In the Senate, Coburn may seek seats on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee as well as the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Born in Casper, Wyo., Coburn was raised in Muskogee, Okla., where he still has a medical practice. After graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1970 with a degree in accounting, he moved to Virginia to become manufacturing manager of the ophthalmic division of his family business, Coburn Optical Industries.
In 1978, Coburn went to medical school at the University of Oklahoma, and set up his own family practice in Muskogee. Coburn continued to see patients in Muskogee on weekends while he served in the House. He returned to regular practice after retiring.
Coburn and his wife, Carolyn, have three adult daughters. He has pledged to serve only two terms in the Senate.
Jim DeMint (R)
Occupation: House Member; marketing company owner
The campaign may have been tougher than it should have been, given the Republican nature of South Carolina, but in the end, DeMint was able to score a solid victory over state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D) in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Fritz Hollings (D).
DeMint has a strong fan base among free-market conservatives, though his support for free trade didn’t necessarily help him in this textile-producing state. Tenenbaum also hit DeMint for his support for a national sales tax.
In the House, DeMint was known as a strong advocate for tax cuts, spending reductions and Social Security reform. Before his election to the chamber in 1998, DeMint worked as an advertising executive. He founded and ran his own firm, DeMint Marketing.
Born in Greenville, DeMint earned a bachelor’s from the University of Tennessee and returned to South Carolina to garner a master’s in business at Clemson University.
He and his wife, Debbie, have four children, two sons and two daughters, between the ages of 19 and 28.
John Thune (R)
Occupation: Lobbyist, former House Member
Home: Sioux Falls
As the latest giant killer, Thune is likely to be treated like a celebrity in the Senate, having eked out a win over Republicans’ top enemy in Congress — Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D).
In a way, Thune never stopped campaigning after losing his 2002 Senate bid against Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson by just 524 votes. But this time the narrow margin came out in Thune’s favor — and as a bigger political win for Republicans.
In a state that voted overwhelmingly for President Bush, Thune painted Daschle as the chief architect of a campaign to obstruct Bush’s legislative agenda. Thune repeatedly cast Daschle as a Washington, D.C., insider more worried about the concerns of liberal Senators, such as Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), than he was about “making South Dakota a priority.”
Thune also hammered Daschle over the Senate’s failure to pass an energy policy bill, which contained provisions important to South Dakota corn farmers seeking to make more money by producing the fuel additive ethanol. Though Daschle voted for the energy measure, it fell two votes short of the 60 needed to avert a filibuster. Saying Daschle “failed to provide leadership,” Thune pointed to the 32 Democrats that Daschle was unable to convince to support the bill. Of course, seven Republicans also participated in the filibuster.
In the final days of the campaign, Thune accused Daschle’s wife, Linda, of influence peddling and charging that Daschle personally benefited from her long-running lobbying practice. Linda Daschle has long denied lobbying for interests that could create the appearance of a conflict of interest for her husband.
A former three-term Congressman, Thune left the House in 2002 to honor a pledge to serve no more than six years. But it was obvious to most political watchers that he was not interested in returning to civilian life. Nearly his entire adult life had been spent in the shadow of South Dakota politics.
Thune went straight to graduate school at the University of South Dakota after graduating in 1983 from Biola University in Southern California, which is described on its Web site as a college “based on evangelical Christianity.” Shortly after receiving his M.B.A. in 1984, Thune went to work in Washington, D.C., as an aide to then-Sen. James Abdnor (R-S.D.).
But Thune’s time on Capitol Hill was cut short when Daschle ousted Abdnor in 1986. Thune then followed Abdnor to a posting in the Small Business Administration.
Returning to South Dakota in 1989, Thune took the reins of the South Dakota Republican Party before accepting a political appointment in 1991 as South Dakota’s railroad director. From 1993 to 1996, Thune served as executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League, before running for the House.
Thune and his wife, Kimberly, have two teenage daughters. He hopes to win a spot on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.