Sylvia Jarrus/The New York Times

Rep. Elissa Slotkin '98 (D-Mich) is one of six Cornellians running this election cycle to win or retain a seat in Congress. Slotkin was first elected in the 2018 midterms, eking out a narrow victory in a district that has long favored Republicans.

November 2, 2020

12 Cornell Alumni Run for Congressional Seats Across the Country

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This election cycle, 12 Cornell alumni are listed on ballots across the country, vying for seats in the 117th United States Congress. Of the group, five candidates are incumbents, while seven are looking to win their first term.

Dana Barrett ’88, Georgia’s 11th District

Barrett is the Democratic candidate for the district and is running against incumbent Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), vying for his fourth Congressional term. Barrett is looking to flip the only remaining Republican congressional seats in the greater Atlanta metro area. 

Loudermilk has a modest edge in fundraising, with a much greater proportion of his contributions, 95.7 percent, coming from in-state supporters, compared to Barrett’s 74.8 percent. 

While Democrats have made inroads in some suburban districts in recent election cycles, the 11th District is still highly Republican, having handed President Donald Trump a 25-point victory in 2016. The Cook Political Report projects Loudermilk to easily win re-election.  

Barrett is the only Cornell alumna challenging an incumbent member of Congress this election cycle. She received her degree from the School of Hotel Administration, and was also part of the University’s cheerleading squad and a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority during her time at Cornell.

According to her campaign website, after Cornell, Barrett moved from the hotel industry to the technology sector, where she worked as an executive for an Atlanta-based tech corporation. She later transitioned into a career in radio and podcast broadcasting, which sparked her interest in politics. 

Shortly after Trump’s 2016 election, Barrett was fired from her local talk radio show for discussing her personal political views. From there, she launched her own talk radio show, which she used as a channel to inspire activism and political engagement in her audience. 

Barrett is also a breast cancer survivor, and has spent recent years advocating for universal healthcare coverage. Healthcare reform is a key component of her campaign, a topic which has received attention as Georgia and the rest of the country endures the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katherine Clark J.D. ’89, Massachusetts’s Fifth District

The district’s incumbent since 2013, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) is running against Republican challenger Caroline Colarusso, a current town board member of Stoneham, Massachusetts. 

Clark’s campaign this election cycle has raised over $1.6 million and current projections have her winning re-election to the Boston suburbs seat by a wide margin. She is also running in an intra-party competition to serve as the Democrat’s Assistant House Speaker, the fourth highest-ranking position in the party’s House leadership. 

After graduating from Cornell Law School, had an extensive career in Colorado and Massachusetts’ State Attorney General offices. She was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2008 and later the State Senate in 2010.  

Since 2018, she has served as Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus for the House of Representatives, making her the current Congress’ sixth highest-ranking Democrat. 

This election, Clark faces a Republican challenger who is focusing her campaign against Clark’s “progressive” agenda and looks to unseat Clark from a possible fifth term. 

Sharice Davids J.D. ’10, Kansas’s Third District

Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) is looking to secure a second term in Congress, facing Republican candidate Amanda Adkins, the former chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party. 

Davids was elected to office in the 2018 midterms, ousting former Rep. Kevin Yoder to become the first Democrat in eight years to represent the greater Kansas City-based district. While the district had long favored Republican candidates, Davids has been boosted by a wave of college-educated, suburban voters increasingly dissatisfied with the current GOP.  

As a result, polling suggests that Davids is heavily favored to hold on to her seat. Throughout the campaign, Davids has outraised Adkins by almost $3 million.      

After receiving her law degree from Cornell in 2010, Davids began a career as an attorney, and was later chosen to be a White House Fellow in the Department of Transportation for the Obama administration.

She is currently only one of two Indigenous Congresswomen, both of whom won their seats in 2018. The 116th U.S. Congress is the first in history to include at least one Native American woman. 

Davids is also the first LGBTQ Native American to serve in Congress, and has worked with both the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and the Congressional Native American Congress to prioritize these interests at the national legislative level. 

In her first term, Davids served on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Committee on Small Business. Aside from her career in law and public service, Davids is a former, professional MMA fighter

Wesley Hunt MPA ’15, MBA ’15, MILR ’16, Texas’ Seventh District 

Republican veteran Wesley Hunt is looking to dispatch incumbent Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) in a historically conservative, Houston suburbs-based seat that has gradually leaned blue in recent years.  

Hunt graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2004, after which he served for eight years in the U.S. Army as an aviation branch officer and helicopter pilot. According to his campaign biography, his service included a combat deployment to Iraq and two deployments to Saudi Arabia as a diplomatic officer. 

Following his time in the military, Hunt attended Cornell, where he obtained an MBA, Masters of Public Policy and Masters of Industrial and Labor Relations.  

Self-described as a “lifelong conservative,” Hunt has sought to make the case that Fletcher is out of touch with a district that had previously not sent a Democrat to Congress in over 50 years. The oil and gas industry is core to Houston’s economy, and Hunt has made his opposition to the Green New Deal and energy regulations a cornerstone of his campaign.   

If Hunt wins, he may become the GOP’s only Black representative in the House. 

The Cook Political Report projects that the race is “Likely Democrat,” although local media outlets have reported that the election is likely to be competitive. Hunt notably outraised Fletcher in the third quarter of the campaign, but still has a $200,00 cash-on-hand deficit compared to the incumbent.  

Dan Meuser ’88, Pennsylvania’s Ninth District 

Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) is looking to win re-election after completing his first term in Congress. This cycle, he is being challenged by Gary Wegman, a moderate Democrat. 

Centered on northeastern Pennsylvania’s “Coal Region,” the largely white, working class district is among the state’s most Republican. Having won his last election by a nearly 20-point margin, election handicappers widely predict Meuser will once again cruise to a comfortable victory.    

Elected in 2018, the freshman representative served on the House Budget, Veterans Affairs, Education and Labor Committees in the 116th Congress. A staunch Trump supporter, Meuser has supported most of the president’s agenda, including the construction of a southern border wall and limits on abortion. 

Meuser graduated from Cornell in 1988 with a degree in economics and government, after transferring from SUNY Maritime College on a Navy ROTC scholarship. 

He previously served as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Revenue, an appointed position charged with overseeing the state’s tax collection. Meuser also worked as an executive at Pride Mobility Products, a family business and major manufacturer of mobility equipment for the elderly and disabled. He worked there for seven years and retains an ownership stake in the company. 

Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95, New York’s 23rd District 

Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95 drives a Jeep Wrangler, owns a gun and has accused her opponent of racism — she’s running for Congress against Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) in a district tinted red.

If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s done this before. This is Mitrano’s second bid for New York’s 23rd Congressional District, after she lost by nine points in 2018. This time, she’s feeling better about her chances.

The former Cornell professor supports reforms like increasing teachers’ wages and interest-free loans for college students struggling to pay tuition, but won’t go as far as supporting tuition-free college. She identified the central problem as interest rates on loans, and proposes a reduction on those rates to help students avoid debt.

“We also need to address the predatory nature of for-profit higher education,” Mitrano said. “If we do that, and address the interest rates, we can begin to reset the compass for colleges and university costs.”

The pandemic curtailed all in-person interactions, until the last few weeks of the race. Mitrano said her inability to meet in person with residents of N.Y.-23 was a significant drawback: “I lost four months that I could’ve spent meeting with voters.”

After living in Ithaca on-and-off for about 30 years, Mitrano and her partner are moving from their house near Ithaca College to live permanently in Penn Yan, New York.

Mitrano’s campaign encouraged all her supporters to vote “in whatever way is most comfortable.” In a district the size of New Jersey, registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats by around 22,000 voters in 2018. Additionally, N.Y.-23 contained 23,678 registered independents. Mitrano’s path to victory depends on high Democratic and independent voter turnout.

Andrew Ruff ’87, Indiana’s Ninth District 

Democrat Andrew Ruff ’87 is running to oust two-time Republican incumbent Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) from Indiana’s Ninth District, a conservative stronghold in the state’s south. 

A lifelong Hoosier, Ruff previously served as a city councilor of Bloomington, Indiana — the district’s largest city — for 20 years, a position in which he championed progressive political goals, according to his campaign website. 

He graduated from Cornell in 1987 with an undergraduate degree in natural resources, with the hope that he would work in the U.S. Forest Service. After those plans didn’t pan out, he worked as a public school teacher in Indianapolis for several years before deciding to go into local politics.   

Although Ruff faces long odds in the heavily Republican district, he has not strayed away from his staunch support of universal healthcare and a higher minimum wage.    

“My goal is to be elected to represent the district, develop a plan for betterment of the district, and to support policies and bring resources to help steer Southern Indiana toward a better future,” he told a local media outlet. 

Kurt Schrader ’73, Oregon’s Fifth District

Strongly expected to win re-election as the Democratic candidate, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) faces two challengers, Republican Amy Ryan Courser and Libertarian Matthew Rix, in his bid for the northwestern Oregon district.  

Schrader’s campaign maintains a strong fundraising edge, having raised $1,866,197 to Courser’s $186,712, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.  

Ryan Courser previously served as a city councilor in the district and made the decision to challenge Schrader after working for local government under his leadership. Rix, the third party candidate, has never run for or held any public office. 

Schrader has represented the district since being elected in 2008, and if re-elected will serve his seventh term next year. While the district has sometimes been competitive in federal elections, the popular incumbent has won each of his elections by commanding margins.  

A member of the congressional Blue Dog Coalition — a self-described “centrist” group for moderate Democrats — Schrader has long been ranked one of the most conservative House Democrats. In 2016, he was one of 63 Democrats to vote against Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Ca.) bid to remain leader of the Democratic Caucus.  

Schrader received an undergraduate degree in government from Cornell before pursuing a veterinary degree from the University of Illinois. Schrader built and started his own veterinary practice in Oregon before pursuing a career in public service, according to his congressional website

In past sessions of Congress, Schrader has served on the House Committee on Agriculture, the House Committee on Small Business, the House Budget Committee. In the last two years, he served as a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. 

Schrader has recently worked with constituents to lobby for additional government support following this year’s devastating wildfire season, which burned over one million acres across the state. He has been active in helping Oregonians receive federal disaster aid through FEMA. 

Mike Siegel J.D. ’09, Texas’ 10th District 

This is Democrat Mike Siegel’s second bid for the seat representing the Austin and Houston suburbs. He narrowly beat his opponent in the primary election, and now faces incumbent Michael McCaul (R). 

For the majority of the race, polls projected McCaul coasting to a comfortable win; which would mark his 16th year in the seat. However, in the last day, the voters have indicated a change of heart. Cook Political Report changed the race’s status to a “toss-up.” High Democrat voter turnout in Texas may turn this election into a close one, or perhaps even in Siegel’s favor.

During his years at Cornell Law school, Siegel served as the chapter President of the National Lawyers Guild, and received the Freeman Award for Civil-Human Rights. After graduating, he conducted research at the Center for Constitutional Rights focused on the civil liability for military contractors.

Siegel was endorsed by a number of progressive left organizations, including the Sunrise movement and Progressive Democrats of America, as well as from a number of local leaders.

In an event with Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday, Siegel said, “You’ve already heard the news. We’ve already got record-breaking turnout [in Texas]. In my district, 366,000 people have already voted, which is the most ever, and we haven’t had Election Day yet.”

Elissa Slotkin ’98, Michigan’s Eighth District

Incumbent Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) faces opposition from Republican Paul Junge, a former prosecutor and TV anchor, in her bid to win re-election to one of the more competitive seats in the country. 

Like Davis, Slotkin was one of 41 Democrats in 2018 to flip previously Republican-held seats. The Eighth District, which includes some Detroit exurbs and parts of Michigan’s capital city, has historically leaned Republican — but, even so, Slotkin’s strong fundraising advantage and campaign biography have led most forecasters to give her the edge in what will likely be a close race. 

Junge’s most recent political work was within the Trump administration as a senior advisor to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. 

Slotkin spent her early life on a family farm in Holly, Michigan, which now serves as her home and base of operations. She received a B.A. from Cornell in 1998 and a Master’s of International Affairs from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2003. She served three tours in Iraq as a CIA intelligence officer and has held various positions on the National Security Council and in the Pentagon. 

Devin Thorpe MBA ’93, Utah’s Third District 

Devin Thorpe is challenging incumbent Utah Republican John Curtis (R-Ut.). But Thorpe was not always a Democrat. He told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was one a “passionate card-carrying Republican,” and that his shift to the Democratic Party occurred as Democrats pushed health care reform. Thorpe is a best selling author and contributor to Forbes, and he previously helped nonprofits fundraise through crowdfunding. 

The race is not considered particularly competitive –– Cook rates it “Solid R” –– and like Thorpe, Curtis also was once not a member of the party he’s in today: Curtis was a Democrat, and even vice chaired the Utah Democratic Party until 2003

Beth Van Duyne ’95, Texas’ 24th District 

Beth Van Duyne is the Republican candidate for the House seat being vacated by Rep.  Kenny Marchant (R-Texas). She graduated from Cornell with a degree in Government in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1995. 

The district lies in between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, and is considered “likely R” by Cook, and Democrats are targeting the seat.

Van Duyne faces Democrat Candace Valenzuela on Nov. 3 after a race that politicized mask wearing –– Van Duyne has hosted campaign events without wearing a mask, in spite of Texas’s statewide mask mandate. Van Duyne is a former official of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump Administration. She received the president’s endorsement during the Republican primary for the seat. 

Correction: A previous version of this story neglected to include six other alumni running for Congressional races, including Andrew Ruff ’87, Mike Siegel J.D. ’09, Beth Van Duyne ’95 and Devin Thorpe MBA ’93. This story has been updated to include the missing candidates.