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Huge midterm turnover makes House more of an everyman's roost

By Philip Rucker, Alice Crites and Lucy Shackelford
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 12:38 AM

To see how Tuesday's midterm rout will change the face of Congress, look no farther than the Bible Belt of southwest Missouri. Voters there replaced Rep. Roy Blunt, a savvy insider, with Billy Long, a smack-talking auctioneer with no college degree but a pithy slogan: "Fed Up."

But Missourians promoted Blunt (R) to a new job, in the Senate, where more than half of the 16 incoming freshmen have law degrees and all but two are grizzled political veterans.

In an election that saw nearly a quarter of Congress turn over, the Senate has remained a refuge for the establishment elite, and the new House has become more of an everyman's roost.

There's a pizzeria owner and former home economics teacher, a former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman and an Iraq veteran who was the target of an assassination plot, an ex-ice hockey referee, a pottery maker, a gospel singer and a one-time prodigy portrait artist.

But the more than 100 newly elected lawmakers who will soon descend on Capitol Hill for freshman orientation collectively do not look like America. Flipping through their portraits, you see a blur of white men. Ninety-seven are men, and 12 are women. Although some contests remain too close to be called, it appears this might be the first election cycle in 32 years that the number of women in Congress does not increase.

Of the 16 new senators, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte is the lone female.

"I hadn't actually thought about it until you just said it," Ayotte said in a telephone interview Wednesday from her Nashua home. Ayotte's 6-year-old, Katharine, and 3-year-old, Jacob, played in the background.

"I think we're at a time where it's great to see people from all different backgrounds stepping up to lead the country," said Ayotte, a former state attorney general whom endorser Sarah Palin dubbed a "granite grizzly." "We're a middle-class, small-business family, and that's a perspective where essentially we're facing most of the challenges that most everyday Americans are facing."

The Class of 2010 is less diverse than the country in other ways as well. Six are African Americans (two of them Republicans); three are Latino. There is one Asian American, and one Arab American, a Christian whose parents are Palestinian. There are two Jews, one Buddhist and no Muslims.

The freshmen range in age from 30 (incoming Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan) to 67 (incoming Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida). Although many of the newcomers ousted incumbents, some replaced retiring members of their own parties. Twelve of the freshmen are Democrats; 97 are Republicans. As of Wednesday evening, 11 House races and two Senate races remained undecided.

About nine in 10 of the new members have children, many of them school age. Republican Bobby Schilling,, who defeated Rep. Phil Hare (D) in an Illinois prairie district, has 10 children. The political novice is giving up his day job at Saint Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza to come to Washington.

Like Schilling, several incoming House members are small-business owners who said they got involved in politics because of what they saw as red-tape intrusions by the government.

In Colorado, Republican Scott Tipton started a business in his home town of Cortez making Native American pottery and jewelry. But after reportedly spending hours filling out government forms saying how many thousands of pounds of clay the company used, Tipton became a vocal critic of government intrusion. He ran for Congress and unseated Rep. John Salazar (D).

In Indiana, Marlin Stutzman, 34, shaped his political views by listening to conservative talk-radio while tending to his family's farm. He reportedly got involved in local politics out of frustration with state regulations governing his tractor business. He will replace Rep. Mark Souder (R), who resigned in May after admitting to an extramarital affair with a female aide.

To be sure, more than a few of the incoming freshmen have held office. In the Senate, six are former House members, and two recently served as governor. Kentucky ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) and Wisconsin plastics executive Ron Johnson (R) are the only two without government service.

In the House, dozens have political pedigrees, including Arizona Republican Ben Quayle, the 33-year-old son of former vice president Dan Quayle. About 35 House freshmen have law degrees, including Republican Rob Woodall, who, after spending the past 16 years as a senior aide to Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), is succeeding his retiring boss.

Women did break ground as state executives. Three states elected a female governor for the first time, all Republican. Women who campaigned with Palin's backing broke barriers. Among the "Mama Grizzlies" who won were South Carolina Republican Nikki Haley, who became both the first woman and Indian-American governor there, and Republican Susana Martinez, the first Hispanic woman elected governor in New Mexico.

But it is in Congress where women's advocates said the election represents a setback. Several high-profile Republican women - California's Carly Fiorina, Nevada's Sharron Angle, Connecticut's Linda McMahon and Delaware's Christine O'Donnell - failed in their bids. Voters ousted Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and at least seven House members.

"Our political institutions in the United States remain bastions of male dominance," said Jennifer L. Lawless, director of Women and Politics Institute at American University. "It's actually unbelievable."

Sometimes, though, change breaks through in unexpected ways.

For the first time, Alabama voters picked a black woman to represent them in Congress. She is Terri Sewell (D), a Birmingham lawyer who went to Princeton, Harvard and Oxford universities.

And two of the GOP's new rising starts are proud prairie women.

Vicky Hartzler, who toppled longtime Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), is a former home economics teacher who raises corn, soybeans and cattle on a family farm. She published "Running God's Way," a step-by-step guide for Christian political candidates.

There's also Kristi Noem, who defeated Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) for South Dakota's lone House seat. Noem runs a ranch, where she rides horses, herds cattle, hunts elk, shoots prairie dogs and dresses pheasants.

Asked what she is doing to prepare for the move to Washington, Noem said: "We're going to live on our ranch in Castlewood, but I will have to find a place to stay in D.C. Our family's not moving. I'll just be traveling back and forth."

ruckerp@washpost.com critesa@washpost.com shackelfordl@washpost.com

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