New Senators

Profiles of Non-Incumbent Winners

Profiles by Washington Post Staff Writers
November 4, 2004

Richard Burr (R-N.C.) | Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) | Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) | Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) | Mel R. Martinez (R-Fla.) | Barack Obama (D-Ill.) | Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) | John Thune (R-S.D.) | David Vitter (R-La.)

More Profiles: New Representatives | New Governors

North Carolina -- Richard Burr (R)

Richard Burr, the son of a Winston-Salem Presbyterian minister, worked for a local distributor of appliances and personal care products for 17 years before winning his first shot at the House of Representatives as part of the Republican wave of 1994. During his five terms in the House, he served on the Energy and Commerce and Select Intelligence committees, upholding a staunchly conservative agenda.

In his run against former Clinton chief of staff Erskine B. Bowles, Burr emphasized his support for the state's economically depressed tobacco farmers, who stand to profit from a federal buyout plan Burr backed. He also leveraged his strong antiabortion record (he supported the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 and co-sponsored the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004) to cement the backing of religious conservatives.

Burr's ads played up Bowles's ties to former president Bill Clinton, who is not popular in rural North Carolina.

More on Burr | Election Results


Oklahoma -- Tom Coburn (R)

Former three-term Republican representative Tom Coburn emerged victorious in one of the nastiest Senate races in the country. Locked in a tight battle against Rep. Brad Carson (D) to claim the seat of retiring Sen. Don Nickles (R), Coburn was carried to victory by the state's overwhelming support for President Bush.

Coburn, a physician, joins the Senate with a reputation as a maverick and a conservative -- and for making impolitic remarks. During the campaign, he said he favored the death penalty for abortion providers and that he had heard there was "rampant lesbianism" in Oklahoma schools. He called state legislators "crapheads" and raised the ire of Native Americans by questioning their federal assistance programs.

In 1997, Coburn helped lead a revolt against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). In a book published last year, "Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders," Coburn compared Republican leaders to the biblical Pharisees.

More on Coburn | Election Results


South Carolina -- Jim DeMint (R)

Rep. Jim DeMint has some surprising opinions for an incoming senator from South Carolina. The three-term Republican wants to replace the U.S. income tax with a sales tax, which many experts believe would hit lower-income workers hardest. He also is a free-trade advocate, which is a sharp contrast with the protectionism for the textile industry espoused by the lawmaker he will succeed, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D).

Yet DeMint easily won in this conservative state against Democrat Inez Tenenbaum, the state's superintendent of education. His victory completes South Carolina's four-decade march from being a member of the Democratic Solid South to become overwhelmingly Republican.

In the Senate, DeMint can be counted on to support President Bush's drive to add private accounts as an option to Social Security. An enemy of "career politicians," DeMint said he ran for the Senate as a way to honor his pledge not to stay in the House for more than three terms.

More on DeMint | Election Results


Georgia -- Johnny Isakson (R)

Rep. Johnny Isakson owes his new job -- U.S. senator from Georgia -- to former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). In 1999, Isakson won a special election to fill the House seat that Gingrich vacated when he resigned. Unlike Gingrich, Isakson is moderate in his ideology, mellow in his demeanor and a frequent ally of Democrats, including the man he will succeed, Sen. Zell Miller, who is retiring. He defeated Democrat Denise L. Majette. In fact, Isakson, who was defeated by then-Gov. Miller in 1990, was later appointed by Miller to head the state Board of Education.

Isakson, son of a Greyhound bus driver, spent much of his time in the House on the education committee helping President Bush pass the No Child Left Behind legislation. He worked for construction money on the transportation committee and has a high rating from the National Rifle Association. He served in the Georgia state House from 1977 to 1990 and ran unsuccessfully in 1996 for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

More on Isakson | Election Results


Florida -- Mel R. Martinez (R)

Mel R. Martinez will be the first Cuban American to serve in the Senate.

He fled the island nation at 15 in 1962 and lived with a foster family in Orlando. He worked his way through college and law school in Florida and became wealthy as a trial lawyer before turning to politics and being elected chairman of the Board of County Commissioners for Orange County in 1998. Then he joined the Bush administration as secretary of housing and urban development.

The White House, however, had bigger plans for Martinez, and at the president's urging, he resigned from the Cabinet to run for the Senate to succeed Bob Graham (D), who retired. Martinez defeated Betty Castor (D), the former president of the University of South Florida.

Like President Bush, Martinez is a generally conservative tax-relief advocate. But he would go lighter on trial lawyers than would Bush. He supports a limit on noneconomic medical malpractice damages that is double the cap Bush has sought.

More on Martinez | Election Results


Illinois -- Barack Obama (D)

Barack Obama, until recently a little-known state senator from Chicago's South Side, rode a remarkable wave to victory. He swamped a field of six established candidates in the Democratic primary and overwhelmed a Republican conservative, Alan Keyes, imported from Maryland, to become the only African American U.S. senator.

On the stump, Obama liked to joke that he was the guy with a black father from Kenya, a white mother from Kansas, and a funny name. He spent much of his youth in Hawaii, graduated from Columbia University and became a community activist in Chicago before attending Harvard Law School, where he was the first African American president of the law review.

Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July, soaring to prominence with a memorable speech. Far ahead of his opponent in the polls, he campaigned and raised money for other Democratic candidates in the campaign's final weeks. He does not deny an interest in running for president one day.

More on Obama | Election Results


Colorado -- Ken Salazar (D)

Attorney General Ken Salazar (D) grew up in Colorado on his family's ranch, which lacked electricity until after his graduation from law school in the early 1980s.

He traces his roots to Mexican settlers who moved to the state's San Luis Valley in the mid-1800s.

Salazar, who owns a Dairy Queen fast-food shop with his wife, cultivates an image of being a down-home lawyer, but in his bitter campaign struggle with Republican beer magnate Pete Coors, Salazar was called a tool of trial lawyers.

A Roman Catholic, he has supported the right to abortion as a matter of conscience.

He served as chief legal counsel to then-Gov. Roy Romer (D) in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s he was executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

He won election as attorney general in 1998 and was reelected by a large margin in 2002.

More on Salazar | Election Results


South Dakota-- John Thune (R)

For John Thune (R), it took two very close races in two years to secure a seat in the U.S. Senate. In 2002, he lost by 524 votes. This year, he unseated the Democratic Senate leader by 4,535 votes, using strong Republican Party backing to oust Thomas A. Daschle.

Thune, a native of Murdo, S.D., rode a wave of popularity from three terms as South Dakota's representative to the House, where he pushed a conservative agenda topped by tax cuts and benefits for the state's rural industries.

Thune contended Daschle had lost touch with South Dakotans, but Thune also has ties to Capitol Hill. After receiving an MBA from the University of South Dakota in 1984, he worked for Sen. James Abdnor (R) and later served at the Small Business Administration under President Ronald Reagan. In 1996, Thune won his first term in the House. Since his defeat in 2002, Thune has worked as a lobbyist for such interests as the railroad and beef industries.

More on Thune | Election Results


Louisiana-- David Vitter (R)

Rep. David Vitter, a Rhodes scholar and Harvard graduate, reached the U.S. Senate after five years in the House and two terms in the state legislature in Louisiana, defeating Democrat Chris John. In the state House, he replaced former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who left to run unsuccessfully for governor. Vitter was elected to the U.S. House seat vacated by House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston (R) after he admitted having extramarital affairs.

Vitter's service has not been as colorful. In recent years he has served on the Appropriations and Budget committees. He also proved to be a loyal Bush Republican, voting with the president 96 percent of the time.

One of his few departures from Bush orthodoxy came when Vitter opposed steel import tariffs imposed by the administration that he said would hurt the port of New Orleans. Vitter was an architect of legislation that limits Louisiana lawmakers to three consecutive terms.

More on Vitter | Election Results


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