New Faces: Newly Elected US Senators
Republican Jeff Flake, the congressman who won Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat, built his reputation on a fierce opposition to "earmarks," the special funding requests for roads, bridges and other local pet projects that are criticized as wasteful patronage.
His opposition to pork-barrel spending has proved popular in the past, but Flake faced criticism during the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl that his crusade has hurt efforts to attract new businesses to the state.
"Arizona is far better without earmarks," a confident Flake said during an October debate.
Flake, who has represented cities in eastern metro Phoenix in Congress since 2000, won the Senate seat over independent-turned-Democrat Richard Carmona, who served as President George W. Bush’s surgeon general.
Before Carmona entered the race a year ago, both parties viewed Flake as the overwhelming favorite. The contest grew more competitive after Flake emerged from a bruising primary against a wealthy businessman who put $6 million of his own money into the race and outside groups threw in about $15 million into the general-election contest in October.
Flake has supported Republican priorities over the years, but also has sided with Democrats on other issues.
In the past, Flake opposed the rescue of financial firms during Bush’s administration, the 2010 health care overhaul and the 2009 economic stimulus package. He has applauded the Obama administration’s decision to lift a ban on travel and remittances to Cuba.
Flake has been criticized for changing his immigration views. He supported proposals in the past that would have revamped guest-worker programs and created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. But he took a narrower position when he announced his Senate candidacy last year, saying voters won’t trust government to fix the nation’s immigration woes unless it can first secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
When Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy neared the end of his victory speech in a bruising U.S. Senate race Tuesday night, he returned to the story of his mother rising out of poverty and what the election meant for a fictional girl living in a public housing complex.
The three-term U.S. congressman said voters gave the girl a better chance at a brighter future.
"She’s wondering whether that promise that was made to my mother - work hard, play by the rules and you’ll have a chance to make it - is still alive," he said. "She’s going to wake up tomorrow and know that that chance to be great ... is just a little bit closer. And in the end my friends, that is the most important measurement of what we’ve done here tonight."
Murphy defeated Republican former wrestling executive Linda McMahon in the race to succeed retiring independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, touting his commitment to the middle class and accusing McMahon of favoring the rich. In the process, he survived McMahon spending $42 million of her own money, $8 million short of what she spent in her unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2010.
He also survived McMahon’s attacks on his past financial problems, which included late mortgage and property tax payments, despite McMahon’s own bankruptcy years ago.
His victory was part of Democrats’ sweep of five congressional races in Connecticut.
Murphy, who served eight years in the state legislature before going to Congress, said his priorities include reforming the tax code to help small businesses, promoting and strengthening American manufacturing, rebuilding roads and rails, improving education and growing the renewable energy industry. He agrees with President Barack Obama on most social and economic issues.
Bridging the bitter divide between Democrats and Republicans in Washington has been another of his goals. He is a co-chairman of the Center Aisle Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members trying to promote civility and positive dialogue in Congress.
While campaigning for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono rarely shied away from fierce support of Democrats and consistent criticism of Republicans, arguing that her party’s stances better reflect the values of Hawaii.
Now, after trouncing former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, Hirono is embracing her standing as the state’s first woman to serve as senator and the Senate’s first Asian-American woman.
Hirono told The Associated Press after winning Tuesday night that the historical footnote says more about the makeup of the country’s electoral pipeline.
"What it reflects is that we need a lot more diversity in the United States Senate," said Hirono, who was born in Fukushima, Japan. "I’m going to do my part to support more women to run for Congress and certainly support more minority candidates."
Hirono, 65, moved to Hawaii with her mother in 1955, then went on to practice law in Honolulu before she was elected to the Hawaii Legislature in 1980. She was elected as lieutenant governor in 1994 and 1998, then lost a governor’s race to Lingle in 2002. She was elected to the U.S. House in 2006, and is generally considered one of its more liberal members.
Hirono ran on a platform of stopping Lingle as a representative of national Republican interests. At every turn in the race, Hirono linked her opponent with well-known GOP names including Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and George W. Bush.
Hirono held court for Democrats in a state known to support the party. President Barack Obama topped the ticket for Democrats in his birth state in his bid for re-election.
While Hirono didn’t win as much support as Obama in the state, she beat Lingle with nearly 62 percent of the vote compared with nearly 37 percent for Lingle.
Hirono has followed other Democrats on several issues, including Obama’s jobs plan and health care reform.
Democrat Joe Donnelly is a three-term congressman from northern Indiana who ran as a centrist highlighting his support for extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts while fending off attacks over his support for the federal health care overhaul.
He was born in Massapequa, N.Y., and received bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. He worked as an attorney and ran a printing business before defeating Republican Rep. Chris Chocola in 2006. He had lost to Chocola him two years earlier.
Donnelly entered the U.S. Senate race after GOP-controlled redistricting moved a couple strong Republican counties into what had been a swing district.
The Senate race turned in Donnelly’s favor after Republican Richard Mourdock said in a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are something "God intended." Donnelly, meanwhile, twice supported a bill that would have denied federal abortion funding even in cases of rape and incest.
Donnelly positioned himself during the campaign as a bipartisan problem-solver against the tea party-backed Mourdock, who defeated longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in a contentious Republican primary.
Donnelly, 57, and his wife, Jill, have two children.
When asked about his vote of the federal health care law, he told the story of his daughter, who takes Enbrel for her rheumatoid arthritis, at a price tag of $1,500 a month. Donnelly says he worried about people who can barely pay their rent being able to afford such drugs.
"How do they make it so their daughter doesn’t have to go in a shower stiffened up every single day, as opposed to being able to get this prescription?" he said.
Independent Angus King may be just starting out in his new role as a U.S. senator, but he’s long been a well-known figure in Maine whose independent politics have been his calling card.
The 68-year-old King was Maine’s governor for two terms between 1995 and 2003, establishing credentials as someone who could work with both parties. Before that he spent 18 years as a public broadcasting commentator on state public policy issues.
Angus Stanley King Jr. was born in Alexandria, Va., grew up there in a politically active family, and after law school at the University of Virginia came to Maine as a lawyer serving low-income people.
He later went to work for William Hathaway, the Democrat who ousted entrenched Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith from her Senate seat. Hathaway’s election in 1972 led to King’s appointment to staff of the Senate Labor Committee.
With King’s 2012 election, he returns to the national political stage - only on a different level. Then, he was refining policy. Now, he’s in a position to shape policy in a much more polarized environment, said Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker.
Asked whether King will have any influence in Washington, Baker said, "Just ask Joe Lieberman," referring to the Connecticut independent who is retiring. "Independents have a huge impact."
Being independent wasn’t always easy, but King made it work.
He walked into a state government on rocky fiscal ground in which cutbacks were required to keep the books balanced. But gradually, as the economy improved, state tax revenues poured in beyond anticipated levels.
King was involved in hydropower and energy conservation work before running for governor, and after serving got involved in wind power. He sold his stake in the wind company when he ran for Senate.
On the campaign trail, Democrat Elizabeth Warren told supporters she never envisioned jumping into the rough and tumble of electoral politics - let alone making the U.S. Senate the object of her first campaign.
Now the 63-year-old is preparing for the transition from the upper echelons of academia at Harvard Law School to the halls of Washington, where she will occupy the seat once held by Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Warren was born in Oklahoma City on what she has called "the ragged edge of the middle class." Her father sold carpeting and worked as a maintenance man and her mother answered phones at Sears. Her first job was waiting tables in her aunt’s Mexican restaurant when she was 13.
She became a teacher after earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston in 1970. Six years later she earned a law degree from Rutgers University and began a career as a law professor, going on to become a pre-eminent expert in the fields of bankruptcy and commercial law.
She came to prominence nationally following the financial collapse of 2008, when she was tapped to serve as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which authorized the U.S. Treasury to spend $700 billion to stabilize the economy.
She pushed for the creation of a new federal agency to hold the nation’s largest financial institutions accountable by protecting consumers from "tricks and traps" hidden in mortgages, credit cards and other products.
She then turned her sights on the U.S. Senate, announcing she would challenge Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who won a special election in 2010 to fill the seat left vacant by Kennedy’s death.
The massively expensive race, the most costly in state history, turned harsh at times, with Brown charging that Warren had used her claims of Native American heritage to help her academic career.
The two remained neck and neck in public opinion polls until Election Day, when voters handed Warren a 54 percent to 46 percent margin over Brown, making her the first woman in Massachusetts elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Republican Deb Fischer’s rise from little-known rancher and state senator to Nebraska’s U.S. senator-elect completes the deeply conservative state’s move to full Republican domination - just one goal of the rock-ribbed conservative.
Fischer, 61, handed Democrat Bob Kerrey his first loss in Nebraska, handily defeating the former governor and two-term U.S. senator in a race that had been perceived as close.
Friends and political strategists have said Fischer’s success was a combination of hard campaigning in some of Nebraska’s most isolated hamlets, her appeal as a conservative rancher, and a flood of outside money that paid for relentless television ads attacking first her better-known and better-funded primary opponents, then Kerrey in the general election.
"I look around this room and I see so many volunteers who helped with this campaign from the beginning," Fischer said Tuesday night in her victory speech. "You folks were here for me when we weren’t given much of a chance at all. We formed a great grassroots organization, we worked hard, and, hey, we’re here today."
When Fischer announced her Senate campaign 16 months ago at an Omaha steakhouse, only a few dozen people showed up - mostly reporters, Fischer family members and a smattering of campaign aides. But her star power was heightened in the subsequent months.
Fischer’s colleagues in the Legislature have described her as a tough lawmaker and an unwavering advocate for her overwhelmingly rural district - the largest geographically in the state - in north-central Nebraska.
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, a Republican who came into office the same year as Fischer, said he could tell Fischer was "tough as nails" when they met during an orientation for freshman lawmakers.
"It didn’t take me very long to figure out she was in it to achieve great things," Flood said. "She does not back down. She does not squirm. She looks you straight in the eye to tell you what she’s going to do, and she works with people to get it done."
Fischer credited her win to her boots-on-the-ground campaign, in which she put 45,000 miles on her car traveling rural Nebraska during the primary campaign, and the support of popular of Republicans like Gov. Dave Heineman and U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns in the general campaign.
Democrats held onto both of New Mexico’s Senate seats Tuesday with election of one of the state’s fast-rising political stars, Martin Heinrich.
The 41-year-old, two-term representative in the U.S. House defeated Republican Heather Wilson for the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Jeff Bingaman.
It is the second time in four years New Mexicans have elected a new senator, after Bingaman and Republican Pete Domenici held the state’s two seats for more than 30 years.
In 2008, Democrat Tom Udall, a former congressman and state attorney general, was elected to replace Domenici.
The themes of this year’s Senate campaign mirrored many of those in the presidential race. Heinrich portrayed himself as a defender of the middle class and safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security. But Wilson blamed Democratic policies for job losses and the nation’s sputtering economy. She opposed President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which Heinrich supported.
Heinrich, 41, has quickly climbed up the ranks in New Mexico politics. He moved to the state in 1995 to take a job at a federal research facility after earning an engineering degree from the University of Missouri. He started a public affairs consulting business and in 2003 won a seat on the Albuquerque city council. Three years later he became state natural resources trustee, an appointive state government job overseeing the restoration of environmentally contaminated areas.
He took the seat vacated by Wilson when she made her first unsuccessful run for Senate in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to win the Albuquerque-area district in 40 years.
Heinrich grew up in Missouri, where his father was a utility company lineman and his mother was a factory worker. He and his wife, Julie, have two children.
Democrat Heidi Heitkamp’s ascension to the U.S. Senate, as the first woman ever to serve North Dakota in Congress, represents the capstone of a political career that began 28 years and six campaigns ago.
The former North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner defeated Republican Rick Berg on Tuesday by about 3,000 votes, with all precincts reporting. Berg had the option of demanding a recount, but he conceded the race Wednesday.
Heitkamp, 57, grew up in the rural southeastern North Dakota hamlet of Mantador, one of seven children. Her brother, Joel Heitkamp, is a former North Dakota Democratic state senator and a popular talk show host on Fargo’s KFGO Radio.
An attorney, Heitkamp was working as an assistant attorney general for the state Tax Department when she ran for North Dakota state auditor in 1984. She lost, but Gov. George Sinner appointed her state tax commissioner two years later when the incumbent, Kent Conrad, was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Heitkamp won her own term as tax commissioner in 1988, and subsequently was elected to two terms as attorney general, getting at least 62 percent of the vote in all three races. Voters warmed to her affable, glad-handing campaigning style and often blunt public speaking style.
As attorney general, Heitkamp was one of the lead negotiators of a $206 billion lawsuit settlement reached by 46 states with the nation’s largest tobacco companies to compensate the states’ medical expenses for treating smoking-related illnesses.
She ran for governor in 2000 but lost to Republican John Hoeven, the former president of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, in a campaign that was derailed late by Heitkamp’s disclosure that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She says she is now cancer-free.
Heitkamp stayed active in politics after her loss, helping to lead a referendum campaign against the weakening of North Dakota’s bank privacy laws, and a ballot initiative campaign to force the Legislature to spend a larger portion of North Dakota’s share of the tobacco lawsuit settlement on anti-smoking measures.
She has vehemently disagreed with what she describes as President Barack Obama’s hostility to coal and oil as energy sources.
Ted Cruz’s election to the U.S. Senate from overwhelmingly Republican Texas was once unthinkable. Now it feels almost anti-climactic.
The tea party darling and former state solicitor general beat Democrat Paul Sadler to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. But his sweetest victory came in the GOP primary, when he stunned Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, one of the state’s most-powerful Republicans.
Never before having sought elective office, Cruz began the race polling at 2 percent. His father was born in Cuba and fought with Fidel Castro before his government embraced communism, then fled for Texas with $100 sewn into his underwear.
Cruz was born in Canada while his parents were there working in the oil fields. He refuses to say if he holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship.
Cruz became a debate champion while at Princeton and has a law degree from Harvard. His fiery, populist oratory made him a grassroots favorite and he spent than two years shaking hands with pastors during Bible study groups at Denny’s, chatting up Republican women’s gatherings around the state, and attending dozens of candidate forums Dewhurst skipped.
Dewhurst had the support of the state’s conservative establishment, including popular Republican Gov. Rick Perry, had overseen the state Senate since 2003, and poured more than $20 million of his own personal fortune into his campaign.
It wasn’t enough. Cruz convinced tea party activists that his opponent was a closet moderate because Dewhurst sometimes comprised with Democrats in the state Legislature to get key bills approved.
Cruz’s primary win vaulted him into the national spotlight. He spoke at the Republican National Convention and became a regular on national political talk shows. He has since moved hard to the center and mended fences with the Texas Republican mainstream - even attending fundraisers with Dewhurst and Perry.
Cruz is the first Hispanic from Texas to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
Virginia Sen.-elect Tim Kaine almost stumbled into politics, but reached elite levels in the Democratic Party nationally with a diverse partisan pedigree.
The son of an Overland Park, Kan., ironworker, Kaine easily could have become a Republican. At Harvard Law School, he met the daughter of A. Linwood Holton, Virginia’s first GOP governor since Reconstruction. They married and moved to Richmond, Va.
"For me, bipartisanship begins at home," Kaine says at nearly every public appearance.
Beliefs forged of his Roman Catholic upbringing and a year as a missionary in Honduras led him into a law practice focused on civil rights, and that morphed into Democratic politics. He won a Richmond City Council seat in 1994 and served as mayor for a term.
He entered statewide politics unexpectedly only after state Sen. Emily Couric, the sister of Katie Couric, was forced to abandon her bid for lieutenant governor after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Kaine took her spot on the Democratic ticket and was elected in 2001. Four years later, he was elected to succeed fellow Democrat Mark Warner, making Kaine Virginia’s first Catholic governor.
In February 2007, Kaine hitched his future to the longshot presidential bid of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and became the first statewide elected official outside Obama’s home state Illinois to endorse him.
The morning after Obama’s 2008 election, Kaine huddled with a gaggle of reporters on the Virginia Capitol lawn and, when asked what positions he’d consider in Obama’s administration, flatly ruled out serving as Democratic National Committee chairman. Less than two months later, he began a two-year stretch in that very position, one of those years shared with final year as governor.
Kaine had intended to stay in the job through Obama’s first term, but when Democratic Sen. Jim Webb announced he would not seek re-election in February 2011, Kaine faced heavy pressure from within his party to run against another former governor, Republican George Allen, and keep the seat - and possibly control of the Senate - in Democratic hands.
With Obama’s blessing, Kaine handed his DNC duties over to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and began reassembling the campaign team from his 2005 gubernatorial victory.
Ironically, Kaine capitalized on partisan gridlock in Congress to portray Allen as a brutish, uncompromising partisan who once exhorted fellow Republicans to knock the Democrats’ "soft teeth down their whiny throats."
Tammy Baldwin is used to firsts. And while her victory in Wisconsin’s Senate race doesn’t break ground for Democrats - the seat has been under their control since 1957 - it does mark the first time the state has elected a woman to the Senate. She is also the first openly gay candidate ever elected to the Senate.
In 1998, she became the first woman from Wisconsin elected to the U.S. House.
Baldwin defeated former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who many people thought would walk away with the Senate race given his deep connection with Wisconsin and voters after serving as a popular governor for 14 years.
Baldwin ran a disciplined and well-funded campaign, turning the tide on the race in the weeks after the mid-August Republican primary that Thompson won but left his campaign broke and him admittedly exhausted.
Consistently ranked among the most liberal members of Congress, Baldwin served seven terms representing the capital city of Madison before running for the Senate seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Herb Kohl.
Baldwin, 50, was born to a teenage mother and raised by her grandparents. When she was 9, she was struck with an illness that put her in the hospital for three months. Her grandparents didn’t have insurance for her and made huge sacrifices to pay her medical bills, she said.
Baldwin has spent most of her adult life in politics. She was first elected to the Dane County Board at age 24, just two years after she graduated from Smith College with a double major in political science and mathematics.
From there she was elected as the youngest woman ever to the state Assembly, at age 30. She served three terms before going to Congress in 1999. She was re-elected with more than 60 percent of the vote every two years since 2002.
Baldwin has been a staunch supporter of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, even advocating for more government control and a single payer system before she ran for office. During the campaign, she said she would focus on making sure the law as passed is implemented and not seek a broadening of its scope.