The Candidates in Limbo

Posted November 7, 2008 at 10:23am

This article has been updated to reflect races that have been decided since the issue’s press deadline.


Al Franken (D)
Age: 57
Occupation: Comedian, author
Home: Minneapolis

Former “Saturday Night Live” funnyman Al Franken may be heading to Washington.

The Democratic candidate hopes to have the last laugh in the Minnesota Senatorial campaign, edging out incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. The fierce three-way race has been unpredictable with former Sen. Dean Barkley (I) garnering plenty of attention from voters who weren’t impressed with either Franken or Coleman.

Barkley was briefly appointed to take over former Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D) seat after he was killed in a plane crash in 2002.

Despite a past littered with satirical rants, a letter to Playboy magazine, nearly two decades working for a show that lampooned presidential politics, and little experience, Franken is in a battle with two former Senators. The Playboy letter in particular was not well-received, prompting some female Democratic politicians to withhold an endorsement.

Franken consistently tied Coleman, a moderate, to President Bush during his campaign, producing ads that focused on the two campaigning together and Coleman’s votes with Bush.

Franken tried to paint himself as the heir to Wellstone. Despite his talent for humor, much of his campaign literature and ads struck a serious note instead of the funny bone.

Coleman peppered his campaign with ads designed to question Franken’s character. One campaign ad highlighted fiery statements by Franken filled with expletives that questioned whether he possessed the right temperament for a politician.

Franken easily won the Democratic convention this spring after the first ballot. Both candidates raised and spent millions of dollars for the campaign.

Franken has expressed interest in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Veterans’ Affairs; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; and the Indian Affairs committees.

Franken is best known for his tenure on “Saturday Night Live,” serving as a regular writer and occasional performer on the comedy show. His recurring character self-help personality Stuart Smalley was featured in a theatrical release. During appearances on the Weekend Update segment of the show, he often joked about being a political candidate, announcing on occasion, “Vote for me, Al Franken. You’ll be glad you did!” Before he joined the show, he graduated from Harvard University.

Recently, he has hosted a radio show and was featured in a number of USO shows in Iraq. His last radio show featured his Senate candidacy announcement.

Franken is married and has two children.


Charlie Brown (D)
4th district
Age: 58
Occupation: Air Force pilot, police department staff
Home: Roseville

Brown is hoping his loss two years ago was just a warm-up. In his first race for elected office, the Air Force veteran held Rep. John Doolittle to 49 percent of the vote in this conservative northeastern California district.

The result of this year’s race — to replace the retiring Doolittle in California’s 8th district — remains uncertain at press time as votes continued to be tallied.

Doolittle’s ethics problems stemming from his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff became even more problematic since the 2006 election. In January 2008, as Brown mounted a second challenge, Doolittle announced he would retire.

In the June primary, Brown was unopposed; a crowded Republican primary produced state Sen. Tom McClintock as his opponent. McClintock, a veteran of California’s House and Senate, made his name in statewide races for controller and governor, and for his expertise in fiscal policy.

During the general election, McClintock tied Brown to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and questioned his lack of legislative experience. Brown struck a populist note and said McClintock was part of the problems of the past.

Brown, a 1972 graduate of the Air Force Academy, served as a pilot in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1998. Since then, he has served as chair of the supervisory board of the Sierra Central Credit Union and as a staff member at the Roseville Police Department and a trustee at the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Brown’s wife, Jan, also served in the Air Force as a nurse. They have two children; their son, Jeff, an Air Force captain, has served four rotations in Iraq.

Tom McClintock (R)
4th district
Age: 52
Occupation: State Senator
Home: Elk Grove

After more than 25 years in California politics, McClintock might be on the verge of making the jump to Congress. The Republican was clinging to a narrow lead at press time over retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown (D) in the race to replace retiring Rep. John Doolittle (R), though the race had not been called.

McClintock, a conservative icon in the Golden State, was popular among 4th district residents even before he began running for Congress, racking up big numbers there when he ran for lieutenant governor in 2006.

He beat former Rep. Doug Ose in a contentious and expensive June Republican primary before taking on Brown, who had almost upset Doolittle two years earlier.

McClintock is a better ideological fit for the district than Brown, who is a very conventional Democrat. But McClintock ran into trouble because he didn’t officially live in the district: He represented a Southern California district in the state Senate but maintained a home in the Sacramento area for his legislative work. As the Sacramento Bee reported, he was ineligible to vote for himself in his race against Brown.

McClintock began his political career at age 26, when he was first elected to the state Assembly. He served there twice, from 1982 to 1992 and again from 1996 to 2000, before being elected to the state Senate in 2000. He gained statewide notoriety by running in California’s 2003 recall election, finishing third and winning the affection of conservatives across the state and nation.

McClintock and his wife, Lori, have two children. He is interested in serving on the Natural Resources, Appropriations and Budget committees.


Mary Jo Kilroy (R)
15th district
Age: 59
Occupation: Franklin County Commissioner, laywer
Home: Columbus

After losing to incumbent Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) by 1,000 votes in 2006, Kilroy was narrowly trailing state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) in the race for Pryce’s open seat as of Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Republicans struggled for months to recruit a good candidate after Pryce announced her retirement, and Kilroy looked like a shoo-in for a while. But eventually, Stivers, at the urging of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), entered the race, and the outcome at that point was in doubt. Stivers was described as a “rock star” by some Republican House Members and shares many of Pryce’s more moderate positions, which made him competitive in the swing Columbus-area district.

But Stivers’ career as a financial industry lobbyist came back to haunt him as the nation’s fiscal crisis hit, and Kilroy — buoyed by a huge investment in the district by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — narrowed the race by sounding populist themes.

The daughter of a pipe fitter and World War II veteran, Kilroy received her bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State University and her doctorate from Ohio State University.

In 1991, she was elected to the Columbus Board of Education, where she served for two terms. Kilroy spent a number of years at the Handelman and Kilroy law firm until she left to run for county commissioner in 2000. After winning the 2000 election, Kilroy won re-election in 2004 and also served as board president from 2005 to 2007.

Kilroy and her husband, Robert Handelman, have two daughters, Julia and Rosa, and three dogs.

A Kilroy spokesman said the commissioner has not decided which committees she would ask to serve on in Congress.


Steve Stivers (R)
15th district
Age: 43
Occupation: State Senator
Home: Columbus

The open seat to replace Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) was too close to call as of press time Thursday, with the margin separating Stivers from Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) just a few hundred votes.

If he were to win, Stivers, considered a “rock star” by some Republican House members, would be the second Republican candidate in a row to represent Columbus, in Ohio’s 15th district.

Kilroy led Stivers by 5 points in a Sept. 19-21 SurveyUSA poll, but voters have been increasingly attracted to Stivers’ moderate tendencies that he shares with retiring Rep. Pryce.

Stivers has both a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations and a master’s degree in business administration from Ohio State University.

For more than 23 years, Stivers, a lieutenant colonel, served in the Ohio Army National Guard. That included nearly a year of service in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar and Djibouti. Before his election to public office, he spent seven years with Bank One, three years at the Ohio Co. and five years as a staff member in the Ohio Senate.

He began his career in the Ohio Senate in January 2003, where he is vice-chairman of the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee and chairs the Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee.

Stivers hopes to serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee or the Armed Services Committee if elected.

He lives in Columbus with his wife, Karen.


Tom Perriello (D)

5th district

Age: 34

Occupation: Lawyer

Home: Ivy

A political unknown when he entered the race against Rep. Virgil Goode (R), Perriello became the surprise of the commonwealth on election night and, as of press time Thursday, he held a several-hundred-vote lead over the Congressman in a race that was expected to head to a recount.

Polls taken just two months ago showed the six-term Member ahead by more than 30 points in the conservative south-central 5th district, and even as late as mid-October some pundits suggested the path to victory would be too steep for the young Democrat.

But Perriello stuck to an economic message that resonated not just in the district’s liberal bastion of Charlottesville but also in Southside Virginia, a section of the district that has seen unemployment rates rise and has suffered from a decline in industry over the years.

Perriello was raised in Albemarle County and earned his law degree at Yale University. After school, he worked for a humanitarian nonprofit organization and eventually served overseas as a national security analyst for the Century Foundation, a public-policy research institution. He went on to found several faith-based nonprofits before running for Congress.

Goode, a red-meat conservative who has occasionally stepped into unwanted controversies, tried to paint Perriello as a “New York lawyer” who was out of step with the district.

Drawing on his experiences working in West Africa and Afghanistan, Perriello has an interest in serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he would also like a slot on the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure and Appropriations panels.

Perriello is single, and his interests outside the political realm include running and college football.

Biographies were compiled by Kate Ackley, Melissa Attias, Jessica Brady, Sara Ditta, David M. Drucker, Casey Hynes, Josh Kurtz, Janie Lorber, John McArdle, Tricia Miller, Tory Newmyer, Emily Pierce and Daniel Strauss.