Ten GW graduates in the 110th U.S. Congress are vying for voters’ approval this fall in re-election campaigns across the country.
The alumni office indicated that the already-strong political presence of GW graduates on the national stage may be growing. There are currently 14 alumni holding congressional offices.
“There’s always been sort of a political focus (at GW) and recently we’ve had more and more people coming here for that,” said Matt Lindsay, director of alumni communications. “And it’s not just in national (congressional) offices,” Lindsay added, noting that the executive branch has featured many alumni in recent years, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard during Hurricane Katrina.
The majority of the alumni serving in Congress attended GW for their postgraduate studies, with the exception of Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Eric Cantor, R-Va., Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. and Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., who received their bachelor’s degrees in Foggy Bottom.
Israel, who represents New York’s 2nd District on Long Island, received his degree from GW in 1983. Israel said his undergraduate years in Foggy Bottom gave him an academic understanding of political science that he has applied regularly throughout his career, including his current re-election campaign.
“I had an extraordinary academic preparation at GW, and I took that to the streets of Long Island,” Israel said.
The congressman has handily won each 2nd District election since 2002 by increasing margins, winning by 40 percentage points in 2006. Israel warned, however, that nothing is sure in politics.
“My constituents are very demanding and they expect hard work,” he said. “The minute you start assuming you’re a safe bet is the minute you start losing votes.”
Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., said he hoped a graduate program at GW would launch him out of the world of politics. But his degree, a master’s degree in health service administration, actually paved his way back to Washington.
In 1998, Altmire completed the degree while working on Capitol Hill. He returned to his home state to work in health care but soon felt the need to run for public office.
“I was frustrated with what was going on in the country especially after the 2004 elections,” he said. “The fact that I have a background in healthcare, that’s one of the reasons that I was able to win in 2006.”
This fall Altmire faces a tougher race than Israel. In 2006, he won by a narrow margin and polls indicate that his Pittsburgh-area district is leaning Democratic, yet he remains confident that his experience and education will be a big draw for voters.
“I think that healthcare is going to be a very big issue in this race,” Altmire said.
Of the 14 alumni currently serving on Capitol Hill, only Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., said he will retire and not return to Congress.
Enzi and Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., all of whom received GW degrees, are not up for re-election this year.