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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

With House majority in play, a new class takes shape

Derrick Van Orden, a candidate for the U.S. House, after being endorsed by former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Waukesha, Wis., Aug. 5, 2022. The Republican ranks grew more extreme and slightly more diverse, while Democrats added several young liberals to their caucus.

By Emily Cochrane and Catie Edmondson

Whoever holds the House majority in January, the new lawmakers will include a fresh crop of Republican election deniers, including a veteran who attended the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; a handful of GOP members of color; and a diverse group of young Democratic progressives.

As vote counting continued across the country Wednesday, with Republicans grasping to take control and Democrats outperforming expectations in key races, the contours of a new class of lawmakers began to emerge.

Here are some of the new faces:

The Republicans

Jen A. Kiggans, a Navy veteran and state senator

As a woman with military experience, Kiggans was regarded by Republicans as a prime recruit to put up against a centrist Democrat in a conservative-leaning area. She defeated Rep. Elaine Luria on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, propelled in part by state redistricting that tilted the district more decisively to the right.

She focused her campaign narrowly on inflation and public safety, and was bolstered by top Republicans, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader who is running to become speaker should his party retake the House, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin. That suggested that she would be more likely to serve as an acolyte to Republican leaders than a thorn in their sides.

Although she ran as a mainstream candidate, Kiggans declined throughout her campaign to say whether she believed President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

Derrick Van Orden, a veteran at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

A retired Navy SEAL who rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Van Orden flipped a key seat for Republicans in western Wisconsin, in a largely rural district currently held by Rep. Ron Kind, a 13-term centrist Democrat who did not seek reelection.

Van Orden, who emphasized his military service on the campaign trail, largely ducked questions about his attendance at the Jan. 6 rally. He has said he did not go into the Capitol, and wrote in an opinion essay that he left the grounds outside the building when violence began, watching “what should have been an expression of free speech devolve into one of the most tragic incidents in the history of our nation.”

During his race, Van Orden leaned heavily into culture war messaging, accusing Democrats of “taking the nation rapidly down the path to socialism” and railing on a podcast against what he described as “woke ideology” seeping into the military.

John James, an Iraq veteran set to expand the House’s ranks of Black Republicans

A West Point graduate who commanded Apache helicopters in Iraq, James was personally lobbied for months to run by party leaders including McCarthy, who were convinced that his victory would keep this Michigan seat safely in Republican hands for years to come.

James, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., in 2020, ran a more moderate campaign than many of his colleagues in safe seats. He presented himself to voters as “an open-minded, freethinking conservative,” and focused on kitchen table issues like lowering prices and bringing back manufacturing.

His victory will nudge up the number of Black Republicans in the House to at least three from two.

Monica De La Cruz, a conservative from the Rio Grande Valley

De La Cruz emphasized her conservative ideology in flipping a seat in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas abandoned by an incumbent who switched districts after the state Legislature handed him an unfavorable gerrymander.

De La Cruz, who owns an insurance firm, had campaigned heavily on the influx of migrants entering the country without legal permission at the southern border, emphasizing how her family had immigrated legally to the United States from Mexico and pledging to “finish the wall” started by former President Donald Trump.

Republicans had enthusiastically pointed to her candidacy, as well as those of two other Latinas running in the Rio Grande Valley — Mayra Flores and Cassy Garcia — as evidence that they were finally making inroads with Latino voters. But Flores and Garcia lost, according to The Associated Press.

Andy Ogles, a hard-right former mayor

A former mayor, Ogles flipped a Democratic-held seat in central Tennessee thanks to a drastic redrawing of the district that all but guaranteed a Republican victory.

Outspoken, hard-right lawmakers like Ogles could cause headaches for Republican leaders as they try to keep the government funded and prevent the country from defaulting on its debt.

After triumphing in his primary election, Ogles called for the impeachment of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as “treason” charges against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, over the administration’s handling of immigration at the southern border. And a video released by his Democratic opponent showed him at a GOP candidate forum following the repeal of Roe v. Wade arguing that the “next thing we have to do is go after gay marriage.”

The Democrats

Summer Lee, the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, Lee became the first Black woman to represent the state, replacing Rep. Mike Doyle, a retiring Democratic incumbent.

She is a vocal supporter of “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal and had support from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other prominent liberals in Congress. Those endorsements included Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Lee had battled a deluge of advertising from a super political action committee aligned with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and concern from more centrist Democrats, including Doyle, who had endorsed a primary rival. She also had to navigate name confusion: The outgoing Doyle, a Democrat, had to remind constituents that he was not Mike Doyle, Lee’s Republican opponent.

She had been backed by Justice Democrats, the liberal organization that helped launch the first campaign for Congress of Ocasio-Cortez.

Becca Balint, the first woman elected to represent Vermont in Congress

Balint, a Democrat who is the president of the state Senate and previously served as a majority leader, had the backing of Sanders, who has championed the Democratic Party’s most liberal stances. Balint backed those positions, including the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All.”

Until Balint, Vermont had been the only state not to send a woman to Congress.

Her run for the at-large seat in the House came after Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, sought the seat of the retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy. She will also be the first openly LGBTQ person to represent the state.

Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a liberal member of Generation Z

At 25, Frost won his seat the first year he was eligible to run for the House, positioning him to become the first member of Congress from his generation to serve.

He will replace Rep. Val Demings of Florida, a Democrat who left the Orlando-area seat in an ill-fated Senate run against Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republican incumbent. Frost has worked with March for Our Lives, the student group that mobilized against gun violence after the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

He has also pledged to support several liberal policies when elected, including “Medicare for All,” the legalization of marijuana, the Green New Deal and expanding the number of justices seated on the Supreme Court.

Greg Casar, a rising progressive in Texas

The son of Mexican immigrants, Casar is the first Latino lawmaker to represent Austin, Texas, as part of a redrawn district.

The district, which now stretches from western San Antonio to East Austin, was previously represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat who will represent a separate district in Texas beginning in January.

In his campaign, Casar, a member of the Austin City Council, emphasized his support and work on behalf of the labor movement in Texas, vowing to be the “most pro-labor member of Congress from the South.” He has also pledged support for “Medicare for All” and other liberal policies.

Hillary Scholten, an immigration lawyer from west Michigan

Scholten, who worked in the Justice Department under the Obama administration, became the first Democrat to represent the Grand Rapids-area district since the 1970s.

She is also the first woman to represent the newly redrawn district. She focused her campaign in part on her support for codifying abortion rights at the federal level. She had previously sought the seat in 2020, losing to Rep. Peter Meijer, a centrist Republican.

Meijer faced backlash in 2021 over his decision to vote to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and lost his primary to John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official. Democrats poured money into the primary race to call attention to Gibbs, viewing him as an easier target in the general election.

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