They ran for different reasons. Some first ran because they felt strongly about an issue. Others were recruited by party elders. Many said they never dreamed of a life in politics, and acknowledged that, deep down, they were unsure that anyone would actually vote for them.
On their inaugural paths, these leaders often surprised themselves with hidden reserves of stamina, quick thinking and grit. Despite the risks to family, finances, career and reputation, they soldiered on, impelled by wary optimism, pride and the hopes of a first official title.
Here are some of their memories.
(WATCH: Current and former politicians recall the first race of their careers.)
65, chairman, Cerberus Global Investments. First campaign: Congress, 1976, age 29; won. Highest office, 44th vice president.
I was thinking about running for state Senate or state representative, and the county chairman from Fort Wayne [Ind.] came down and said I should run for Congress. I said, “Well, there’s a lot of other people that are ahead of me,” and I mentioned a few of their names and he says, “Yeah, they’re ahead of you but they’re not going to run.” I said, “What do you think? I’m going to be the sacrificial lamb on this?” He said, “Oh, no, I think you could win...we’ll get behind you.” I said, “Okay, I want two things. I don’t want a primary opposition, and I want you to raise money for me.” He says, “That’s not a problem. You’re not going to have any primary opposition, and we will raise all of the money you need.” Those were the first two, shall we say, fabrications that were told to me in my political life...
Quayle on his first campaign
70, senior counsel, Patton Boggs. First campaign: Congress, 1972, age 31; won. Highest office, Senate majority leader.
The interesting part for my wife and me was that we really concluded by then that we were Republicans, even though I’d been working for [Rep. Bill Colmer] as a Democrat. He was a conservative Democrat, and I just didn’t feel comfortable running as a Democrat, so I went in and told him I was planning on running and that I would run as a Republican. And he paused, he thought about that — very thoughtful, wonderful old gentleman — he said, “Well, I admire your courage and I understand your decision, but I fear you’re embarking on a hopeless crusade.” Well, I was 31 years old, my heart sank, I had a young family.
I just felt like I’d be a fraud if I ran as a Democrat when I had learned after 3 1
2 years in Washington that I really was not a Democrat, and I realized that most of the people in south Mississippi would not identify with the Democrats in Washington.