The New Members of the Senate

Posted November 7, 2008 at 9:51am

This article has been updated to reflect races that have been decided since the issue’s press deadline.

Alaska
Mark Begich (D)
Age: 46
Occupation: Mayor
Home: Anchorage

The ethics section of Begich’s campaign Web site did not mention Sen. Ted Stevens (R) by name.



“Alaskans have been let down by their elected officials. Secret meetings, hidden favors, special access for special interests, and now convicted legislators have given Alaska a black eye,” the passage read. “The only way to restore Alaskans trust in their elected leaders is for them to earn it.”

It’s a theme Begich stuck to in the final days of his Senate campaign against Stevens, the longest-serving Republican Senator. After Stevens was convicted on federal corruption charges one week before Election Day, Begich emphasized the idea of moving forward.

“This election gives Alaskans the opportunity to choose a different style of leadership, a different approach to addressing the important issues facing our state,” Begich said.

But in the wake of Stevens’ conviction, it appeared that Alaskans might not give Begich the opportunity to do that. When the votes were counted on election night, Stevens was actually ahead. It took more than two weeks for the final ballots to be counted, and for Begich to be declared the victor.

The two candidates were very close in several polls leading up to Stevens’ conviction.

At the start of the election cycle, the idea that Democrats could oust Stevens seemed audacious. “Uncle Ted,” as he is fondly known throughout the state, is the most powerful man in Alaska and a reliable purveyor of pork.

Begich is in his second term as mayor of Anchorage. He spent 10 years in the state Assembly before defeating the incumbent mayor in 2003.

Begich’s father was former Rep. Nick Begich (D); he served as a Representative before his plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska in 1972, when his son was 10 years old.

The younger Begich has expressed interest in working on the Appropriations; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Environment and Public Works; Finance; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. Begich is also interested in being on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but since Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) serves there, “that would be more difficult,” a Begich campaign spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Begich is critical of the No Child Left Behind Act and has been active on global warming issues as mayor, joining the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement and Resolution.

He has been married to his wife, Deborah, for 17 years. They have one son.

Colorado

Mark Udall (D)

Age: 58

Occupation: Congressman

Home: Eldorado Springs

Udall’s sweeping victory over former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) continues a Democratic wave that has been pushing through the Rocky Mountain State since 2004. [IMGCAP(1)]Colorado narrowly voted for President Bush in 2004, but Democrats picked up an open Senate seat in 2004 with the victory of Sen. Ken Salazar. In 2006, the party won one House seat and the governor’s mansion. With the Democratic National Convention in Denver and presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) focused on its Electoral College votes this year, Colorado seemed prime for a Senate pickup.

Udall held a sizable lead in the polls against Bob Schaffer (R) for much of the summer, but an internal poll from the Schaffer campaign had the race down to a 1-point margin by early September. Outside groups from both sides flooded the airwaves with negative television ads, targeting Schaffer for accepting donations from oil and gas companies while in Congress and Udall for a 2003 vote against funding for construction projects in Iraq. Udall was painted as a “Boulder liberal” who supported partial-birth abortion and opposed oil drilling, prompting the Democrat to shift his stance, telling the Denver Post, “We’ve got to do everything” to encourage energy independence.

The Service Employees International Union targeted the race early, and Udall raised nearly $10.8 million compared with almost $7 million for Schaffer. Udall tied Schaffer to the economic woes on Wall Street and criticized him for supporting privatization of Social Security. The Democrat appealed to independent voters and talked on the campaign trail about job growth, tax credits for renewable-energy projects and increased support for public schools.

As Election Day neared and Udall appeared safe, the national Democratic Party scaled back on its efforts in the state. It was not an entirely welcome move in the Udall camp, but it didn’t seem to cut into his lead.

In his five terms in the House, Udall sat on the Armed Services, Natural Resources, and Science and Technology committees. He hails from a famous political family and is known as an outdoor enthusiast and environmental activist. He will likely take on similar issues in the Senate.

Idaho

Jim Risch (R)

Age: 65

Occupation: Lawyer, lieutenant governor

Home: Boise

Risch won the race to replace disgraced GOP Sen. Larry Craig after defeating former Democratic Rep. Larry LaRocco for the third time in his career. In a race that some called in his favor long before election night, Risch also bested three other candidates, Libertarian Kent Marmon, Independent Rex Rammell and independent candidate Marvin Richardson — who changed his name to Pro-Life. Risch wrapped up the seat early in one of the country’s most Republican states.



After having lost bids for the state Senate and lieutenant governorship to Risch in the past, LaRocco counted on a third time being a charm. But the Republican maintained a solid lead in fundraising and in polls throughout the race.

Risch was quick to distance himself from his predecessor while on the campaign trail. During an August interview with HBO, Risch was asked how he would make the country forget about the “messy” end of Craig’s Senate career. Risch replied that his “time in the U.S. Senate will have nothing to do with Larry Craig’s career” and would not directly comment on Craig’s decision not to resign from the Senate before his term was finished.

Risch is a reliable conservative who said during the campaign he would have opposed the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. He issued a statement in early October condemning the bill and praised Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo for “taking a stand on behalf of the taxpayers and voting no.”

During his time as lieutenant governor, Risch has been active on the issue of clean energy, and he was endorsed by the NW Energy Coalition “for being a champion of clean, affordable energy for Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.” He described himself on his campaign Web site as an irrigator and a rancher, and he vowed to protect the state’s water supply. He’s expressed interest in serving on the Energy and Natural Resources, Judiciary or Armed Services committees.

Risch earned forestry and law degrees from the University of Idaho. He and his wife, Vicki, were named Healthy Marriage Ambassadors in Idaho and live outside Boise. They have three sons and six grandchildren.

Nebraska

Mike Johanns (R)

Age: 58

Occupation: Former governor, former Agriculture secretary

Home: Omaha

Despite his long political career in a year when GOP lawmakers faced the tightest of races across the nation, Mike Johanns coasted past Scott Kleeb (D) to secure the open seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel (R).



Not surprisingly, Johanns, who grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa, is going to seek a post on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in the Cornhusker State. Given the global economic situation, Johanns would also be interested in slots on the Senate Finance or Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs panels.

Before he got his start in politics, Johanns attended law school at Creighton University. He graduated in 1974 and went into private law practice. In 1983, he became a Lancaster County commissioner. Later, he served as mayor of Lincoln.

He was elected to two terms as the state’s governor, but he left in 2005 during his second term to serve at the helm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He resigned from that position to run for Senate.

Though polls showed that Johanns was heading into the election with a big lead, he campaigned through 30 cities in the final week of the campaign with a mantra that he was not taking any vote for granted. He went up with television advertising in mid- September with an upbeat spot touting his plans to help revive the ailing economy.

He outraised and outspent Kleeb. Johanns’ campaign brought in $3.7 million and had spent just more than $3 million by mid-October, while Kleeb raised $1.6 million and had spent about $1.4 million by October.

During the final days of the campaign, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report about the campaign activities of Bush administration officials. It said that in 2006, Johanns made more than 30 campaign trips to help GOP candidates. Johanns has said that taxpayer money was not used in 2006 campaign trips and that the candidates’ campaigns picked up the tab if he attended events. News reports have also revealed that the USDA spent nearly $40 million for travel to conferences in 2005 and 2006 during Johanns’ tenure.

On the campaign trail, Johanns said government spending is one of the country’s biggest problems and that he wants to work to bring it under control. He also supports extending the Bush tax cuts. When it comes to social issues, he opposes abortion rights except to save the life of the mother, and he does not support same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Johanns, who is Catholic, is married to Stephanie Johanns. They have two grown children and five grandchildren.

New Hampshire

Jeanne Shaheen (D)

Age: 61

Occupation: Teacher, academic administrator, former governor

Home: Madbury

When Shaheen lost narrowly in a Senate race to then-Rep. John Sununu (R) in 2002, she was already well-established as a force in New Hampshire politics. Now she is prepared to expand her influence, becoming New Hampshire’s first Democratic Senator since 1980 and its first female Senator.



Shaheen kicked off her political career in 1990 by winning a seat in the New Hampshire Senate after playing a supporting role for Democratic presidential and Congressional candidates. She built on that success by running for the open governorship in 1996, easily winning with 57 percent of the vote. As New Hampshire’s first female governor, she was re-elected twice.

In 2002, as Sununu challenged Sen. Bob Smith in the Republican primary, Shaheen ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Beginning in the spring, Republicans attacked her record as governor, especially on education and taxes, and Sununu won by 4 points.

Following the loss, Shaheen took a hiatus from her own campaigns — though she was instrumental in Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) New Hampshire presidential primary victory in 2004 — and in 2005 she became director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

After Democrats swept both of New Hampshire’s House seats and seized control of the Legislature in 2006, Sununu became an immediate Democratic target, and several Democrats jumped into the race to take him on. But party leaders clearly favored Shaheen and released several polls showing her leading the Senator. She finally resigned her position at Harvard in September 2007 to take on Sununu again, and the rest of the Democratic field quickly evaporated.

The battle lines were drawn. Sununu painted himself as a young, energetic Senator who strives for independence from the Republican Party; Shaheen reminded voters of the incumbent’s ties to President Bush and his unpopular vote for September’s economic rescue package.

The former governor said she hoped to focus on energy and health care issues in Washington, but Sununu emphasized that Shaheen had supported the war in Iraq and tax cuts before changing her mind.

It was a top-tier race from start to finish, and national Democrats threw their weight behind Shaheen. Among her biggest contributors were the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, EMILY’s List, the Service Employees International Union, the American Association for Justice and the American Federation of Teachers. Sununu’s army included the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Club for Growth. Although Shaheen led by large margins in the polls for most of the campaign, the race appeared to tighten at the end.

Shaheen is married to lawyer and political activist Bill Shaheen, who has been influential in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary contests and Congressional races for years. They have three daughters.

New Mexico

Tom Udall (D)

Age: 60

Occupation: Lawyer, Congressman

Home: Santa Fe

Udall will replace a legend, six-term Sen. Pete Domenici (R), and will enter the Senate with his cousin, Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who also won an open-seat race on Election Day. But Tom Udall almost didn’t run for the seat.



After Domenici announced his retirement plans, New Mexico’s other two House Members, Reps. Steve Pearce (R) and Heather Wilson (R), quickly got into the race. Udall chose to remain on the sidelines as other Democrats jumped into the fray.

But after several weeks of pressure from Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Udall changed his mind and decided to run. He quickly cleared the Democratic field and became the overall favorite.

As Udall accumulated cash, Wilson and Pearce went after each other in their tough primary. By the time Pearce emerged with a narrow victory, he was broke and limping, and Udall was well on his way to victory.

Pearce’s attempts to brand Udall as too liberal for the state largely fell flat; although Udall had a fairly liberal voting record in Congress, he previously spent eight years as New Mexico’s attorney general and was known as a reformer and a straight shooter. That reputation inoculated him in the Senate race from many of the Republicans’ attacks.

Before winning his Congressional seat in 1998 — the same year his cousin Mark entered the House — Udall, the son of former Arizona Congressman and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall (D) and nephew of the late Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), had run for Congress twice before. He lost a Democratic primary in 1982 to Richardson, then lost an open-seat race to Steve Schiff (R) in 1988.

Udall attended Prescott College, Cambridge University and University of New Mexico School of Law. He also clerked for Judge Oliver Seth of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and won his first of two terms as attorney general in 1990.

As a Congressman, Udall has voted with his party on most high-stakes legislation — voting yes to troop reductions in Iraq and no on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments. But representing an oil- and gas-producing state, Udall went against his Democratic colleagues when he voted for tax breaks and incentives for energy companies.

Udall has served on several committees in the House, most recently Appropriations. He also has been the co-vice chairman of the House Native American Caucus and participated on the Law Enforcement Caucus.

Udall is married to Jill Cooper, a lawyer. His stepdaughter, Amanda Cooper, is an accomplished political strategist who managed his successful Senate campaign.

North Carolina

Kay Hagan (D)

Age: 55

Occupation: Banker, state Senator

Home: Greensboro

In a closely contested race against Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R), Hagan eked out a win in what had been considered an impenetrable Republican stronghold. Several high-profile Democrats had refused to enter the race, reasoning that Dole, an iconic figure in many ways, would be too tough to beat. But when Hagan entered the race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee jumped right in on her behalf and spent in the neighborhood of $10 million to defeat the well-known incumbent.



Hagan, a lawyer by education and banker by profession, attended Florida State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in American studies, and then Wake Forest University for law school, where she met her husband, Chip Hagan. The Hagans have two daughters and one son. Their two youngest children, Carrie and Tilden, attended the University of North Carolina and Duke University, respectively, which Hagan said tested the family’s “bipartisanship.”

Hagan won the Democratic nomination over wealthy banker Jim Neal, among others. Although she supports gun rights, Hagan’s stances are relatively liberal for a Southern Democrat; she supports research into alternative-energy sources, opposes the war in Iraq, and favors tax cuts for the middle class.

Hagan had been a state Senator for 10 years before challenging Dole, and before that she was a banker at Nations Bank. In the Legislature, Hagan increased investments in state universities and pushed for financial literacy education, saying it’s an essential part of functioning in American society. Much of Hagan’s family is in the military — her father-in-law is a two-star Marine Corps general, a nephew is in the Air Force and another nephew is serving as a Navy SEAL. Perhaps for that reason, one of Hagan’s top priorities is to make North Carolina one of the most “military-friendly” states in the country, through increased National Guard pensions and more educational benefits for military personnel and their families.

Throughout the campaign, both Hagan and Dole ran tough ads against each other, and the DSCC paid for some of the assault on Dole. Although the Republican tried to paint her challenger as a flip-flopper and a tax hiker, it was not enough.

North Carolina has changed demographically in recent years, and Hagan was helped immeasurably by a surge in African- American turnout thanks to the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Oregon

Jeff Merkley (D)

Age: 52

Occupation: State Speaker, former national security analyst

Home: Portland

After a tight race, Jeff Merkley unseated two-term incumbent Sen. Gordon Smith (R).



Although Smith held a 12-point lead over Merkley in an Aug. 2-4 SurveyUSA poll, both candidates were essentially tied by the beginning of October, with Smith beginning to lose ground.

Merkley owes at least some of his success to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic interest groups, which spent millions of dollars to help Merkley outlast his well-funded opponent.

Smith also lost a small but significant amount of support to Constitution Party candidate Dave Brownlow, a libertarian-style conservative who is anti-abortion-rights and anti-war.

In addition, strong, statewide support for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and concern over the economy brought an unusually large number of Democrats and independents to the polls.

Oregon has become considerably more Democratic since Smith won his second term in 2002, and Merkley’s election means that two Democratic Senators will now represent the state.

The son of a sawmill worker, Merkley was born in Myrtle Creek and moved to Portland with his family in grade school. During high school, he was elected student body president and spent a summer in Ghana as an exchange student.

The first in his family to go to college, Merkley earned an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and then completed a master’s degree in public policy at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. He served as a national security analyst for the Pentagon and then Congress before he and his wife, Mary, returned to Oregon in 1991.

Upon his return, Merkley became the executive director of Portland Habitat for Humanity where he organized community volunteers to build homes for low-income families. Afterward, he served as the director of housing development at Human Solutions, where he helped create affordable housing complexes. Merkley was also president of the World Affairs Council of Oregon for seven years, and he continues to serve on the board of trustees.

Merkley kicked off his legislative career with his election to the Oregon House in 1998. In September 2003, he was elected to be the House Democratic leader and became Speaker when the Democrats took control of the legislature after the 2006 elections.

As a Senator, Merkley hopes to serve on Energy and Natural Resources, Appropriations, or the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Merkley lives in East Multnomah County with his wife and their children Jonathan, 12, and Brynne, 10.

Virginia

Mark Warner (D)

Age: 53

Occupation: Businessman, former Virginia governor

Home: Alexandria

Former Gov. Mark Warner, a favorite among Virginia voters, handily won the race to replace Republican Sen. John Warner.



The victory was hardly unexpected — Mark Warner led another former Virginia Gov., Jim Gilmore (R), by more than 20 points in several polls. He also had a cash advantage of $5.1 million to $117,000 over Gilmore, according to June 30 Federal Election Commission reports.

Warner’s victory means that Democrats now control both of Virginia’s Senate seats and the governorship.

Born in Indiana, Warner spent most of his childhood in Illinois and Connecticut. After graduating high school, Warner moved to Washington, D.C., to attend George Washington University, where he studied political science and worked in the office of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). He earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1980.

After law school, Warner moved back to D.C. to volunteer for Democratic campaigns. He eventually struck it rich working as a high-tech businessman and co-founded the company that became Nextel.

In 1989, Warner managed the Virginia gubernatorial campaign of Doug Wilder, who became the nation’s first elected black governor. Afterward, he became the state Democratic Party chairman and then ran against John Warner in 1996. Mark Warner spent $10 million of his own money on the campaign but lost by 6 points.

In 2001, Mark Warner was elected governor, where he made a name for himself by reaching across the aisle to compromise with the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. Because Virginia does not allow governors to succeed themselves, Warner chartered a federal political action committee called Forward Together to explore a 2008 presidential bid. He toured the the country until Oct. 12, 2006, when he announced he would not run for president so that he could instead spend time with his wife and daughters.

On Sept. 13, 2007, two weeks after John Warner announced he would not seek another term, Mark Warner declared himself a candidate for the Senate. When Mark Warner takes office in January, a spokesman said “he hopes to serve on whatever committees where he can be most helpful to Virginians and the American people.”

Mark Warner also served as a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in August. He lives in Alexandria with his wife, Lisa Collis, and their three daughters: Madison, Gillian and Eliza.

Biographies were compiled by Kate Ackley, Melissa Attias, Jessica Brady, Sara Ditta, David M. Drucker, Casey Hynes, Josh Kurtz, Janie Lorber, John McArdle, Tricia Miller, Tory Newmyer, Emily Pierce and Daniel Strauss.