WASHINGTON -- Republican victories in Tuesday's Senate elections push out a Democratic old guard and usher in a new crop of hungry GOPers, some just getting their feet wet in politics.
Republicans won control of the Senate partly with the help of newcomers who ousted Democratic incumbents and whipped rivals for seats vacated by retiring liberal lions, whose political service spanned decades that included some of the biggest moments in modern U.S. political history. These departing senators have chaired powerful committees, authored landmark bills, exposed torture in Vietnam, debated CIA interrogation methods, and voted on the Iraq war.
Politically inexperienced Republicans fought to victory by linking Democratic opponents with President Barack Obama and by emphasizing business or military experience, rather than Washington savvy. A Republican outsider also snagged a seat held by a retiring Republican heavyweight: Businessman David Perdue, who will take the seat of departing Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
In some of the Senate races that went to the GOP, the experience gap between the old guard and the new is vast. Without further ado, meet some of your new Republican bosses.
Iowa: Joni Ernst, replacing retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
Harkin, 74, was elected to the Senate when Judas Priest and Whitesnake were releasing albums. (Ahem, 1984.) When Harkin was a young congressional staffer in 1970 -- the year Ernst was born -- he exposed the “tiger cages” in Vietnam, where protesters and students were tortured. Later, he authored the Americans with Disabilities Act, established television closed-captioning, helped secure a United Nations treaty to end abusive child labor, and created a program to reward farmers for not ruining the environment.
Ernst, 44, was elected to Iowa state Senate about three years ago, following a distinguished two-decade career in the military. When BuzzFeed recently accused her of ripping her newspaper op-eds from party boilerplates, her spokesperson said, “Ernst is not a career politician, she is a part-time citizen legislator.” She has expressed support for getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, and for impeaching Obama.
South Dakota: Mike Rounds, replacing retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.
Johnson, 67, is often cited for his work with the influential Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which he chairs. He’s pushed through numerous laws aimed at protecting Americans’ bank accounts from corporations, including the Safe and Fair Deposit Insurance Act. He also helped get a director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau confirmed, despite GOP attempts to kill the whole agency.
Rounds, 60, spent about 10 years in the state Senate and eight years as governor. But his web page documenting his gubernatorial achievements fails to mention that Rounds is best known as a governor who tried really hard to ban abortion. In 2006, he signed a law that outlawed almost all abortion in the state, including in cases of rape and incest, which put South Dakota in a position to challenge Roe v. Wade. But the law didn’t survive the year. South Dakotans repealed it in a November referendum.
West Virginia: Shelley Moore Capito, replacing retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Rockefeller, 77, announced his retirement last year, paving the way for West Virginia to send a GOPer to the Senate for the first time since the 1950s. Rockefeller, elected to the Senate in 1984, serves on at least five committees, chairing one. A defender of veterans’ rights, he also has emerged as a champion for privacy advocates standing up to big data companies. He was a big player in George W. Bush administration history, as one of the lawmakers briefed early about the CIA’s use of waterboarding, and later voting to authorize the program.
Capito, 60, who has served more than a decade in the U.S. House, is Rockefeller's successor. Capito ran on a pro-coal message, bashing the EPA for trying to combat climate change. She is the first woman elected to the Senate from West Virginia, but has repeatedly voted against equal pay bills.
Montana: Steve Daines, replacing retiring Democratic Sen. Max Baucus.
Baucus, 72, served more than 30 years in the Senate, before retiring in February to become U.S. ambassador to China. Baucus’ accomplishments include many major international trade deals and helping write Obamacare. As The Washington Post pointed out, Baucus had a history of angering fellow Democrats -- he voted against gun purchaser background checks, then delayed and later slammed the implementation of Obamacare. Nonetheless, Baucus had been an influential Democrat thriving in a conservative-leaning state.
His seat will go to Daines, 52, whose political career includes running for lieutenant governor on a gubernatorial ticket that lost to Democrat Brian Schweitzer in 2008, and serving less than two years in the U.S. House. After a major fumble by Democrats -- their first candidate quit after a plagiarism scandal -- Daines won by emphasizing his business and tech experience with RightNow Technologies, a successful software company sold to Oracle for about $1.5 billion. Daines has said that intelligent design should be taught in public schools.
Arkansas: Tom Cotton, replacing Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.
Pryor, 51, has served in the House for four years and in the Senate for about a decade. He sits on at least six committees. He has pushed through bills benefitting service members, including a law that reduced taxes on members of the military serving in combat zones. He attacked Cotton, 37, for eyeing the Senate seat when he “didn’t know even where the bathrooms were.”
Cotton, who is Harvard-educated, has a political career of less than two years. He succeeded by making voters feel that supporting Pryor was approving of Obama. He also got a boost from his U.S. Army deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In the House, Cotton’s record has largely been distinguished by what he didn't vote for -- disaster relief, the farm bill, and the Violence Against Women Act. In 2013, Politico described Cotton as the face of the GOP “hell no caucus,” which is “bad news for Obama and anyone else dreaming of compromises on entitlement reform, guns and immigration.”