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Guess Who’s Coming to Washington

Thirteen congressional candidates to watch

Russ Feingold

Russ Feingold

Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Nineteen ninety-two has been tagged the Year of the Woman … the Year of the Outsider … the Year of the Angry Voter … the Year of Tabloid Politics – everything but the Year of the Cat. You want a catch phrase? Just call it the change thing.

The political landscape in 1993 will be vastly different from the current one. Congress is facing the greatest turnover since the Watergate Class of 1974; an estimated 120 to 150 new faces are expected in Washington next January.

Democratic senatorial candidates Carol Moseley Braun (Illinois) and Lynn Yeakel (Pennsylvania) are perhaps the most famous of the new faces. And they embody several characteristics of the challengers. They’re among the eleven women trying to alter the gender balance of the Senate. They’re outsiders, yet neither is new to politics. Braun is the Cook County recorder of deeds; Yeakel, the cofounder and current president of Women’s Way, a group that finances women’s health and social organizations.

Other challengers are taking advantage of incumbents’ retirement, newly created congressional districts or the simple desire for change. In short, there’s no one category into which they all fit.

Below are thirteen of the new faces to watch. In all cases they’re moving up, and in some way or another their distinctive qualities help explain what’s going on out there. Some are definite winners who will be around for years to come; some are notable simply for their candidacies.

SANFORD BISHOP
Age: 45. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, Georgia’s Second District. Résumé: Sixteen years as state legislator.

Significance: Redistricting has increased the number of black voters in the Second District, but Bishop’s upset win in the primary is a sign that black candidates can succeed in regions in the South where they never previously had a chance. The district is peanut country, but Bishop’s victory came mainly through alliances with the white business establishment in Macon and Columbus. His focus is on five issues: jobs, education, safety, affordable health care and a clean environment. While he benefited from local NAACP and church efforts, he didn’t run to become a black congressman, just a congressman. In the mold of Mississippi’s Mike Espy and Georgia’s John Lewis (both big Clinton backers), Bishop understands the importance of getting votes across racial lines.

Running against: Republican Jim Dudley, a physician.

Chances: A lock.

MARIA CANTWELL
Age: 33. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, Washington State’s First District. Résumé: Three terms as state representative.

Significance: Nationally, the First is a key swing district and should provide a clue to which way the suburbs are heading in the Nineties. Located just north of Seattle, it’s one of the nation’s fastest-growing high-tech areas and is largely populated by well-off suburbanites. While it has usually sent Republicans to Congress (four-termer John Miller is retiring this year), Dukakis won it by one percentage point in ’88. Cantwell portrays herself as a moderate  – fiscally conservative (she favors an across-the-board spending cut) and socially liberal (she’s prochoice and backs national health care). A victory would make Cantwell a prototype for Democrats looking to take back the bedroom communities.

Running against: Republican state senator Gary Nelson.

Chances: Very good. Nelson is prolife. Cantwell is getting significant support from prochoice groups and the Democratic National Committee, which sees a chance to take a seat from the GOP.

KARAN ENGLISH
Age: 43. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, Arizona’s Sixth District. Résumé: One term as a state representative. State senator since ’91; chairs environment committee, which she helped create.

Significance: Ten years ago it would have been hard to image an environmentalist standing a chance in a rural Western district like this. But as people migrate to the Sun Belt, things change. In the state senate, English has taken bold stands, authoring bills on air quality and environmental education in schools. To temper her image as a tree hugger in the Land of Gold-water, she also stresses the free-enterprise and high-tech aspects of environmental protection.

Running against: Former Reagan and Bush aide Doug Wead, a forty-five-year-old who served as Bush’s liaison to the evangelical community.

Chances: 50-50.

RUSS FEINGOLD
Age: 39. Party: Democrat. Running for: Senate, Wisconsin. Résumé: Two terms as state senator.

Significance: Feingold’s TV ads in the primary could have been featured on a show called America’s Cheesiest Home Videos. In one he was endorsed by Elvis. Feingold also wrote his campaign pledges on the walls of his garage. But while his more-favored opponents –– a sitting congressman and a millionaire businessman – ignored him and slandered each other, Feingold put forward substantial proposals. And he crushed them, winning seventy percent of the vote. His stunning success with quirky tactics and an issue-based approach is further proof that the Tsongas and Perot phenomena were not isolated occurrences. Though not as radical as Minnesota’s junior senator, Paul Wellstone, Feingold would join him as another Midwestern progressive unafraid to attack the system.

Running against: GOP senator Bob Kasten, one of the best-funded incumbents in D.C. No LaFollette Republican, Kasten backed the Persian Gulf War and is antitax, prolife and a well-tested pork producer.

Chances: About as good as Wellstone’s were two years ago, when he upset Rudy Boschwitz.

ELIZABETH FURSE 
Age: 56. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, Oregon’s First District. Résumé: Organizer and activist.

Significance: Furse comes as advertised –– she worked in the Watts area of Los Angeles in the Sixties; helped get legislation passed to recognize three Native American tribes in the Seventies; and organized a Citizens’ Train from Oregon to D.C. to protest the budgetary priorities of the Reagan administration in ’88. In ’85, she founded the Oregon Peace Institute to promote nonviolence. If elected, Furse would stand with Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders on the far left of the House.

Running against: State treasurer Tony Meeker.

Chances: 50-50. The First, which includes Portland and points west, has traditionally been a liberal district, but redistricting has suburbanized it. Meeker is prolife.

MICHAEL HUFFINGTON
Age: 44. Party: Republican. Running for: House of Representatives, California’s Twenty-second District. Résumé: Hails from a wealthy Texas oil family. In addition to working in the family business, served as an arms-control negotiator in the Reagan administration.

Significance: Huffington is not your run-of-the-mill multimillionaire shopping for a House seat. The district includes the coastal counties of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and Huffington is spurning his wildcatter roots to win it. He calls the Earth “God’s creation” and talks of a “sacred duty” to respect and protect it – the latter a sharp break from the views of his party. Coastal protection was a major element of his primary win over the incumbent, Bob Lagomarsino, whom he painted as “hesitant” on issues such as offshore drilling, the presence of tankers in the Santa Barbara Channel and protection of coastal wildlife and wetlands.

Running against: Santa Barbara County supervisor Gloria Ochoa.

Chances: Excellent. Carpetbagger charges leveled during the primary did not stick, though Huffington’s spending – $83.73 per vote – was tops in the nation.

CHERYL DAVIS KNAPP
Age: 45. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, Florida’s Ninth District. Résumé: A mother at age fifteen, Knapp studied to get her GED and, later, two nursing degrees. Now works as a nurse; has lobbied the state legislature on health and abortion bills.

Significance: Two years ago, in her first political race, Knapp ran strongly against the GOP incumbent, Michael Bilirakis. Knapp’s campaign is based solely on social issues, with the emphasis on health care. Her pitch is aimed at Tampa’s suburban voters (particularly women) worried about their pocketbooks. It’s the economy repackaged: Can we afford health care? The message plays well in Tampa, which is home to THRO (Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out), a group that campaigns against congressional incumbents nationwide.

Running against: Five-term GOP incumbent Michael Bilirakis.

Chances: Better than 50-50. Redistricting has narrowed the GOP’s majority in the Ninth, though it still holds an edge.

CYNTHIA MCKINNEY
Age: 37. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, Georgia’s Eleventh District. Résumé: Currently in her second term as state representative.

Significance: McKinney, taking advantage of a newly created black-majority district, should become the first African American woman to represent Georgia in Congress. She’s also broken ground in the past. She and her dad, state representative Billy McKinney, are the first father-daughter legislative duo in the country. She’s controversial, outspoken, ideologically steadfast and unlikely to compromise – even for Dad. They often battle publicly, since she is far to his left on gay rights, gun control and the death penalty. She’s been compared to Representative Maxine Waters of South Central L.A. Like Waters, who crashed a White House meeting after the L.A. riots and has called Bush a racist, McKinney says what’s on her mind. Her ’91 speech denouncing the gulf war emptied the Georgia House chamber.

Running against: Republican Woodrow Lovett, a farmer.

Chances: A lock.

RICK PAMPLIN
Age: 38. Party: Independent. Running for: House of Representatives, California’s Twenty-fifth District. Résumé: Ross Perot campaign worker. Director of low-budget action films and former writer for the TV show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

Significance: When Perot abandoned his campaign, Pamplin turned around and began gathering petitions for himself. He says he’s running on Perot’s platform and stresses campaign reform. He promises to take no contribution over $100 and calls for the elimination of PAC donations. Pamplin places himself on the right wing fiscally and in the middle on social issues (prochoice, pro-gay rights). Perotistas helped him collect the 12,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot. Perot himself continues to dole out thousands to keep local groups alive, and Pamplin is the only Perot backer on the ballot in California.

Running against: Republican Howard McKeon, former mayor of Santa Clarita.

Chances: Weirder things have already happened this year.

DONNA PETERSON
Age: 32. Party: Republican. Running for: House of Representatives, Texas’s Second District. Résumé: One of the first women to graduate from West Point. Served five years in the army as a helicopter test pilot. Ran a strong but unsuccessful race against the incumbent, Charlie Wilson, two years ago.

Significance: Don’t tell Peterson it’s the Year of the Woman. In her part of East Texas, feminism is a four-letter word, and that’s fine with her. She’s proud of her reputation as a pioneer but resists attempts to proclaim it in the name of sisterhood. Peterson is a guntoting member of the National Rifle Association, a family-values-preaching prolifer and a card-carrying member of the conservative-Christian wing of the GOP. She’s Marilyn Quayle with the military record Dan never had.

Running against: Ten-term Democratic incumbent Charlie Wilson.

Chances: Better than they were two years ago. Wilson has always walked a thin line between his good ol’ boy image and more liberal voting record. This year, he’s also burdened by eighty-one bad checks and a vote for a congressional pay raise.

BOBBY RUSH
Age: 45. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, Illinois’s First District. Résumé: Currently in his third term as Chicago alderman. Helped found the Illinois Black Panthers in the Sixties; served time in the Seventies on a weapons conviction.

Significance: Rush’s evolution from Sixties activist to South Side ward leader is a vivid example of the evolution of the black political movement from the raised fist to the handshake. Rush has established himself as a coalition builder on Chicago’s aldermanic board, but no one can accuse him of selling out. The ideals and energy of his past now fuel his desire to effect change within the system. “You can’t eat,” says one of his advisers, “unless you’re sitting at the table.”

Running against: Republican Jay Walker, an administrative law judge.

Chances: A lock.

MEL WATT 
Age: 47. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, North Carolina’s Twelfth District. Résumé: One term in the state senate. Managed Harvey Gantt’s almost-victorious Senate campaign against Jesse Helms in ’90.

Significance: Running in a newly created black-majority district, Watt will become one of the first two African Americans to represent his state in ninety-one years. In the primary, the forty-six-year-old Watt defeated the sixty-one-year-old Mickey Michaux, an old-time pol from the Durham black machine. The race displayed the differences between older movement leaders and younger, more-pragmatic professionals. Michaux received his undergrad and law degrees from North Carolina Central; Watt from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Yale Law. Watt won the race the new-fashioned way, over the airwaves (something he learned from the Gantt campaign).

Running against: Republican Barbara Gore Washington, an attorney.

Chances: A lock.

LYNN WOOLSEY
Age: 54. Party: Democrat. Running for: House of Representatives, California’s Sixth District. Résumé: Vice-mayor of Petaluma.

Significance: Woolsey would be the first House member with firsthand knowledge of the welfare system. After a divorce in ’68, she was left with three children –– ages one, three and five – and was forced to apply for government aid. She quickly rebounded, getting work in the high-tech industry and eventually starting her own personnel business in 1980. Her involvement in politics has been on the local level, as an activist and member of the city council. Her exposure to the problems facing many Americans goes beyond that of most in Washington, whose idea of getting in touch with the people amounts to talking to cabbies on the way to the airport.

Running against: State assemblyman Bill Filante.

Chances: Excellent. Filante had been favored but recently had to withdraw after surgery to remove a cyst from his brain. He’s still on the ballot, but a vote for him is most likely a vote for a special election.

In This Article: Coverwall

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