Three decades ago, 5 of our current Senators were already in the Senate. Eight hadn’t graduated from high school yet.


A scene from Washington, D.C., in 1984. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)

Thirty years ago this month, Ronald Reagan was poised to crush Walter Mondale to win a second term as president; "The Cosby Show" premiered; Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was on top of the charts. And eight current U.S. senators were getting ready to head back to school.

With November rapidly approaching and control of the Senate hinging on a handful of races, we suddenly became curious about how the sitting members of the Senate got there. The challengers in 2014's contested races have a variety of backgrounds. But what, we wondered, was the long-term path that led someone to the north side of Capitol Hill? So choosing a window of 30 years -- the minimum age requirement for membership in the body -- we went back and looked at what everyone was doing.

This is harder than it looks. Most senatorial biographies tend to emphasize the sorts of things that are directly relevant to Senate experience -- and tend to downplay periods during which people had just regular-old, run-of-the-mill jobs. We couldn't figure out what everyone was doing precisely on Sept. 1 (the also-arbitrary date we used as our guidepost), but we at least got a good sense.

Perhaps the most striking thing was how neatly the 30-year time period encapsulated every stage of life. No one was a newborn in 1984, perhaps unsurprisingly, but some were close. A couple of senators were in sixth grade. A couple were in middle school far from where they'd end up, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was living in Las Vegas and had just recently converted from Mormonism, or Utah's Mike Lee (R), who was heading back to school in McLean, Va. At the other end of the spectrum, five current U.S. senators were even then in the Senate -- including Utah's other senator, Orrin Hatch (R).

pie

About as many current senators were at the time working in state government as were in college or graduate school. A plurality of senators -- just over a quarter, were working in the private sector -- but in a very wide range of fields. A number were lawyers in private practice. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was trying to get his wireless communications company off the ground. A couple were doctors. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) ran a construction company. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was on hiatus from "Saturday Night Live," working on something called "The New Show." Mark Udall (D-Colo.) was working for Outward Bound. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) was sitting on the board of a bank and running his family shoe business, NZ Shoes. (Get it?)

doing

There isn't a lot of difference in what members of either political party were doing. More Democrats worked in or for government, but, then, more Democrats sit in the Senate. There were three mayors: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was mayor of San Francisco, Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was mayor of Tulsa, and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was mayor of Burlington. There were 12 current senators who were in the House at that point -- including four who were in their first terms. (One, Alabama's Richard Shelby (R), was in the House as a member of the opposite political party.) Three current senators in 1984 were running the campaigns that would bring them to the body.

The larger point is this: If someone can go from helping your mother run a real estate company (Mark Begich, D- Alaska) or working on the failed presidential bid of Gary Hart (Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.) or being a rancher and stay-at-home mother (Deb Fischer, R-Neb.) to the U.S. Senate in just three decades -- it seems silly to count anyone out. Even a newborn.


The complete list

(Note: Most of the photos included below are not from September 1984. But they are clearly worth including anyway.)

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Age: 44. Joined Senate in: 2003.
In 1984: Governor of Tennessee. [source]

Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). Age: 16. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Junior at Nashua High School. [source]

Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Age: 22. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Recent graduate of Smith College, majoring in political science and mathematics. Headed to law school. [source]

John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Age: 32. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Orthopedic surgeon at Casper Orthopaedic Associates. [source]

Mark Begich (D-Alaska). Age: 22. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Three years out of high school. Working with his mother in managing real estate. [source]

Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Age: 19. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Undergrad sophomore at Wesleyan, studying history. [source]

Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Age: 38. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Member of the Connecticut House, first term. [source]

Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Age: 34. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Greene County Clerk and chief election officer. [source]

Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Age: 15. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Sophomore football star at Northern Valley Old Tappan High School. (Later played at Stanford.) [source]

John Boozman (R-Ark.). Age: 33. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Optometrist with his brother, Boozman-Hof Regional Eye Clinic in Rogers, AR. [source]

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Age: 43. Joined Senate in: 1993.
In 1984: Member of Congress in her first term. [source]

Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Age: 31. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Ohio secretary of State. [source]

Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Age: 28. Joined Senate in: 2005.
In 1984: Sales manager at Carswell Distributing. Newlywed. [source]

Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Age: 25. Joined Senate in: 2001.
In 1984: Just ended role as campaign manager for Sen. Alan Cranston's (D-Calif.) presidential bid. [source]

Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Age: 40. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. [source]

Tom Carper (D-Del.). Age: 37. Joined Senate in: 2001.
In 1984: Member of Congress in his first term. [source]

Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Age: 24. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: First-year law student at Catholic University. [source]

Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Age: 40. Joined Senate in: 2003.
In 1984: Attorney in Moultrie. [source]

Dan Coats (R-Ind.). Age: 41. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Member of Congress. [source]

Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Age: 36. Joined Senate in: 2005.
In 1984: Physician at Maternal and Family Practice Associates in Muskogee, which he helped found shortly prior. [source]

Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Age: 46. Joined Senate in: 1978.
In 1984: Member of the Senate.

Susan Collins (R-Maine). Age: 31. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: Legislative assistant to Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine). Staff director of Senate subcommittee. [source]

Chris Coons (D-Del.). Age: 20. Joined Senate in: 2010.
In 1984: Senior at Amherst, studying Chemistry and Political Science. [source]

Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Age: 32. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Owner of a construction company. [source]

John Cornyn (R-Texas). Age: 32. Joined Senate in: 2002.
In 1984: Attorney in private practice, had decided to run for judge. [source]

Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Age: 33. Joined Senate in: 1999.
In 1984: Lawyer and Republican committee member. Wins election to the state Senate later in the year. [source]

Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Age: 13. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Freshman at Second Baptist High School in Houston. [source]

Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Age: 28. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Lawyer at Nemeth, Feeney and Masters in South Bend. [source]

Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Age: 39. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: Member of Congress and delegate to the Democratic National Convention. [source]

Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). Age: 40. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: Board member of First Wyoming Bank of Gillette. Owner of NZ Shoes. [source]

Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Age: 51. Joined Senate in: 1992.
In 1984: Mayor of San Francisco. [source]

Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). Age: 33. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Stay-at-home mother and rancher. [source]

Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Age: 21. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Undergrad junior at BYU, studying international relations. [source]

Al Franken (D-Minn.). Age: 33. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Writer and actor on "The New Show," on hiatus from "Saturday Night Live." [source]

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Age: 17. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Freshman at Dartmouth, majoring in Asian studies. [source]

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Age: 29. Joined Senate in: 2003.
In 1984: Active-duty attorney with the Air Force, stationed at Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany. [source]

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Age: 50. Joined Senate in: 1981.
In 1984: Member of the Senate.

Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). Age: 31. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Employee at North Carolina National Bank. [source]

Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Age: 44. Joined Senate in: 1985.
In 1984: In his last term as a member of Congress. Running for the Senate. [source]

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Age: 50. Joined Senate in: 1977.
In 1984: Member of the Senate.

Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Age: 12. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Seventh grade student in Cole Camp, Missouri. [source]

Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Age: 28. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Attorney with the Office of the North Dakota State Tax Commissioner. [source]

Dean Heller (R-Nev.). Age: 24. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Senior undergraduate at USC, studying business administration. [source]

Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Age: 36. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Member of the Hawaii state House. [source]

John Hoeven (R-N.D.). Age: 27. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Manager of the trust department at First Western Bank, owned by his father. [source]

Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). Age: 49. Joined Senate in: 1994.
In 1984: Mayor of Tulsa. [source]

Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Age: 39. Joined Senate in: 2005.
In 1984: Realtor with Northside Realty. Member of the Georgia state general assembly. [source]

Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). Age: 34. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Member of the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners. [source]

Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Age: 29. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Executive at plastics company Pacur. [source]

Tim Johnson (D-S.D.). Age: 37. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: Member of the South Dakota Senate. [source]

Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Age: 26. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Lawyer with Little, Parsley & Cluverius in Richmond. Newlywed. [source]

Angus King (I-Maine). Age: 40. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Vice president of Swift River/Hafslund Company. [source]

Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Age: 24. Joined Senate in: 2010.
In 1984: First year as a staff member to Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.). [source]

Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Age: 24. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Final year studying law at University of Chicago. [source]

Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Age: 28. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: Member of the Louisiana state House. [source]

Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Age: 44. Joined Senate in: 1975.
In 1984: Member of the Senate.

Mike Lee (R-Utah). Age: 13. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Middle school student in McLean, Va. [source]

Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Age: 50. Joined Senate in: 1979.
In 1984: Member of the Senate.

Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Age: 37. Joined Senate in: 2010.
In 1984: Member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. [source]

Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Age: 38. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Member of Congress. [source]

John McCain (R-Ariz.). Age: 48. Joined Senate in: 1987.
In 1984: Member of Congress in his first term. Married to Cindy for three years. [source]

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). Age: 31. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Member of the Missouri state House. [source]

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Age: 42. Joined Senate in: 1985.
In 1984: Judge-executive of Jefferson County. Running for Senate. [source]

Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). Age: 30. Joined Senate in: 2006.
In 1984: Lawyer in private practice. [source]

Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Age: 27. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Presidential Management Fellow in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. [source]

Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). Age: 48. Joined Senate in: 1987.
In 1984: Member of Congress. [source]

Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). Age: 30. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Lawyer at Stinson, Mag & Fizzell. State special assistant attorney general. [source]

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Age: 27. Joined Senate in: 2002.
In 1984: Law student at Willamette University; graduated in 1985. [source]

Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Age: 11. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Sixth grade student in Wethersfield, Conn. [source]

Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Age: 33. Joined Senate in: 1993.
In 1984: Citizen lobbyist and parent education instructor. [source]

Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Age: 41. Joined Senate in: 2001.
In 1984: Member of Congress. [source]

Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Age: 21. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: About to begin medical school at Duke, despite not graduating from Baylor. [source]

Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Age: 28. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Recently graduated from Michigan Law, headed to D.C. as a lawyer with Patton Boggs. [source]

Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). Age: 21. Joined Senate in: 2003.
In 1984: Senior at University of Arkansas, studying history. [source]

Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Age: 34. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: Associate attorney at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan in D.C. Army Reservist. [source]

Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Age: 44. Joined Senate in: 1987.
In 1984: Member of Congress in his first term. [source]

Jim Risch (R-Idaho). Age: 41. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Idaho state senator and president pro tempore. [source]

Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). Age: 48. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: Member of Congress. [source]

Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). Age: 47. Joined Senate in: 1985.
In 1984: Governor of West Virginia. Running for Senate. [source]

Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Age: 13. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Middle school student in Las Vegas. First communion. [source]

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Age: 42. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Mayor of Burlington. [source]

Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Age: 11. Joined Senate in: 2012.
In 1984: 6th grade student at Kahala Elementary School in Honolulu. [source]

Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Age: 33. Joined Senate in: 1999.
In 1984: Member of Congress. [source]

Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Age: 18. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Student at Presbyterian College. [source]

Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Age: 37. Joined Senate in: 1997.
In 1984: United States Attorney for Alabama’s Southern District, nominated by Reagan. Army Reserve. [source]

Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Age: 37. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: New Hampshire campaign manager for Gary Hart's presidential campaign. [source]

Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Age: 50. Joined Senate in: 1987.
In 1984: Democratic member of Congress. [source]

Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Age: 34. Joined Senate in: 2001.
In 1984: Member of the Michigan House of Representatives. [source]

Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Age: 28. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Farmer and member of the Big Sandy School Board of Trustees. [source]

John Thune (R-S.D.). Age: 23. Joined Senate in: 2005.
In 1984: Graduated from the University of South Dakota with an MBA. [source]

Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Age: 22. Joined Senate in: 2011.
In 1984: Recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in government, began work at Chemical Bank. [source]

Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Age: 34. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Worked with Colorado Outward Bound School as course director. [source]

Tom Udall (D-N.M.). Age: 36. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Chief counsel to the New Mexico Department of Health and Environment. [source]

David Vitter (R-La.). Age: 23. Joined Senate in: 2005.
In 1984: Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. [source]

John Walsh (D-Mont.). Age: 23. Joined Senate in: 2014.
In 1984: Enlisted member of the Montana National Guard. [source]

Mark Warner (D-Va.). Age: 29. Joined Senate in: 2009.
In 1984: Entrepreneur in cellular communications. [source]

Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Age: 35. Joined Senate in: 2013.
In 1984: Instructor at University of Texas Law School at Austin. [source]

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Age: 28. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Special Assistant Attorney General of Rhode Island. [source]

Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Age: 33. Joined Senate in: 2007.
In 1984: Lee County public defender. Member of the Air Force Reserve. [source]

Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Age: 35. Joined Senate in: 1996.
In 1984: Member of Congress. [source]

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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