Heard on the Hill

5 Not-So-Newbies to Watch on Election Day

These midterm candidates were once congressional staffers

If Young Kim comes to Capitol Hill, it will be a homecoming of sorts. She worked for California Rep. Ed Royce for years. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s no secret that those who come to Capitol Hill to work behind the scenes may have political aspirations of their own.

Dozens of current lawmakers were congressional staffers in a previous life. (We feature them once a month in Roll Call’s Staffer News.)

Likewise, plenty of first-time candidates on the ballot Tuesday aren’t new to Congress. Search LegiStorm or their LinkedIn profiles, and you’ll come across the phrase “chief of staff.” 

Some are looking to replace their former bosses, while others are hoping to ride their coattails into fresh territory.

Of course, in the age of “drain the swamp,” not all of them are eager to flaunt their Hill careers.

Chip Roy (Sen. Ted Cruz)

While Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is fighting for his political life, his former chief of staff is fighting to create one. Roy has worked for both sitting Texas senators — he was Sen. John Cornyn’s staff director for his leadership office and senior counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was also a senior adviser to Governor Rick Perry of Texas.

Roy was deemed “The Next Ted Cruz” by Politico, which reported that he was an architect of Cruz’s strategy to shut down the government in 2013 over Obamacare.

He is running for the open seat left behind by retiring Rep. Lamar Smith in the 21st District, which runs north of San Antonio through parts of Austin. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

Ben Cline (Rep. Bob Goodlatte)

Cline is looking to replace his former boss, retiring Rep. Bob Goodlatte. He started working for the Virginia Republican in 1994 as a legislative correspondent and moved through the ranks as legislative assistant and legislative director. After two years as chief of staff, he left the office in 2002 and quickly started his tenure in the Virginia House of Delegates, where he has served for 16 years.

Not everyone in the Goodlatte family is a fan of Cline. The congressman’s son, Bobby, announced in August he had donated the maximum amount to Jennifer Lewis, the Democratic candidate in the race to replace his father, and urged others to do the same.

Still, Cline is favored to win in Virginia’s 6th District, which stretches through the Shenandoah Valley. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

Young Kim (Rep. Ed Royce)

Kim went to work for Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California more than 25 years ago and most recently was his director of community operations. Before that she was his director of Asian affairs. Kim stuck with Royce until she was elected to the California State Assembly in 2014. 

As Royce’s hand-picked successor, she got a call from the congressman almost immediately after he announced he would retire at the end of this term.

“Young Kim, I’m with you,” Kim recalled Royce saying during the conversation, NBC reported. “You’re the best candidate that I can think of who knows the district that can carry on the work that I’m leaving behind.”

California’s 39th District includes parts of Orange County, and Kim is locked in a tight contest with Democrat Gil Cisneros. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

Ron Wright (Rep. Joe Barton)

Wright is another former staffer running to replace the man who was once his boss. He worked for Texas Republican Rep. Joe L. Barton as his district director from 2000 to 2009 and his chief of staff from 2009 to 2011. While he was an aide, he served at-large on the Arlington City Council for eight years and was the mayor pro tempore for four of those. When he left Barton’s office, he was appointed by the Tarrant County Commissioners Court to be the county’s tax assessor-collector.

During the primary, Wright argued that he is the only candidate who can “hit the ground running in Washington” because of his staffer experience, the Texas Tribune reported.

After Barton announced he would retire, Wright staked his claim to the 6th District, where he is favored to win. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

Lori Trahan (former Rep. Marty Meehan)

Months after Trahan graduated from Georgetown University, she began her stint with Marty Meehan, then a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts. She stayed for nine years, simultaneously serving as the state’s deputy treasurer for two of those, and rose through the ranks to become chief of staff. She left for the private sector in 2005.

A couple years later, Meehan left the House. Fast forward 10 more, and his successor, Rep. Niki Tsongas, announced she would retire. That’s when Trahan threw her hat into the Democratic primary, defeating Daniel Koh, who was chief of staff to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. 

Now she looks to be a shoo-in for the 3rd District. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic.

Erin Franczak contributed to this report.

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