The New Look of the Senate: Young, Ethnic, Female
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Josh Boak,
The Fiscal Times
November 13, 2012

When the newly elected Senate takes office in January, the upper chamber will have a striking new look to it, with younger and more moderate members taking their seats – including five women.

Once primarily the domain of older, wealthy white males, the Senate gradually is taking on the look of the coalition that helped to reelect President Obama last week, including minorities, women and young people.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the election that the Democrats were able to expand their majority by two seats because “We’re the party of diversity.” With independent senator-elect Angus King Jr. of Maine and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont., all but certain to caucus with the Democrats, Reid and his party will hold a 55 to 45--seat majority over the Republicans.

While Democrats will still be five votes short of a 60-vote super majority needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, the new majority should be enough to give Reid some running room in negotiations over budget and tax policy next year while providing Obama with a firewall against GOP attacks on his health care and Wall Street reforms.

“On balance I think it would have to be seen as a more moderate group,” said Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist. “There are certain outliers. I think that [conservative Republican senator-elect] Ted Cruz of Texas is balanced off by Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. But the rest of them seem to be much more to the center.”

Reid’s caucus becomes much more diverse with the first openly gay senator (Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) and a fierce member of the “Blue Dog” Democratic coalition (Joe Donnelly of Indiana). The total number of women in the Senate will rise to 20 – the largest number in history. In addition to Baldwin, Democrats Warren, the Harvard Law professor and consumer advocate, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Republican Deb Fischer of Nebraska boost the numbers.

Democrats picked up Republican-held seats in Indiana, Maine and Massachusetts and no incumbent Democratic senator lost reelection. Republicans picked up Democratic-held Nebraska, where Sen. Ben Nelson was retiring.

Here are the 12 new faces in the Senate:

Arizona – Rep. Jeff Flake – Republican
The six-term congressman made his reputation by opposing earmarks and showing a willingness to criticize fellow Republicans. His opposition to earmarks led GOP leaders to strip him of a position on the House Judiciary Committee in 2007. The 48-year old Mormon heads to the Senate to succeed the retiring John Kyl. A former executive director of the Goldwater Institute with libertarian leanings, Flake campaigned on cutting the deficit.

Connecticut – Christopher S. Murphy – Democrat
With three terms in the House under his belt, the Democrat bested former wrestling executive Linda McMahon in order to succeed Joe Lieberman in the Senate. Murphy, 39, worked his way into Washington through the Connecticut statehouse. The National Journal gave him a 73 percent score for “liberal on economic policy,” while the American Conservative Union assigned him a lifetime score of 2 percent.

Hawaii – Mazie K. Hirono – Democrat
This 65-year old Hirono is the first senator to identify herself as Buddhist and to have been born in Japan. Hirono was elected to the House in 2006 and moved across Capitol Hill on a platform that stressed clean energy and early-childhood education. Americans for Democratic Action gave her a 95 percent rating.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.