Types of U.S. Political Candidates: A Field Guide

Types of U.S. Political Candidates: A Field Guide


The young gun
Examples: Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Sarah Palin (R-Alaska)
The young gun is sexy. S/he needs to have a 90% absence of physical flaws complemented by several striking attributes—sparkly green eyes, long, shiny brunette hair flecked with blonde highlights, maybe a butt chin. The young gun has been in the game for a few years, maybe five, maybe ten, long enough to tuck some key legislation into his or her Gucci belt, long enough to win over crowds with passionate orations, pose for photos with their gaggle of well-groomed offspring, and meet more experienced, homelier politicians with which to join forces. The young gun is a radical, a rabble-rousing firecracker that can burn brighter than any other candidate for a party, but also has the potential to explode in its face ten minutes before showtime on the fourth of July or the first Tuesday in November.

The smooth talker
Examples: Herman Cain (R-Georgia), Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin)
The first time you encounter the smooth talker, you are thoroughly impressed. Every word out of her mouth sounds like a first draft of Pulitzer-winning nonfiction. Her constituents love her and she has an army of dressy campaign interns knocking on doors offering ear-to-ear grins and candy seven days a week. The smooth talker seems like a proficient politician until you slow down and actually listen to what she’s saying: beneath her charismatic USA! USA! speeches lie repeated, disjointed statistics that lack legitimate sources, umbrella statements about reform, and demeaning jabs at well-established, moderate opponents. You realize that the smooth talker is only that: a big personality with a good speech coach and a theater minor who lacks a working knowledge of law-making and what it takes to implement real reform.

The veteran
Examples: Joe Biden (D-Delaware), Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia, served 57 years and then died)
If you’re going to mess with the veteran, you better have a lot of money, a lot of friends, and skin as thick as the patriot act. The veteran has at least ten terms under his or her belt, with a war chest overflowing with diamonds and hundred dollar bills. The veteran is what some may label a “career politician,” but before embarking on three decades in Congress, s/he spent twenty-five years in a noble, bootstrap-pulling, all-American career in the military, medical science, or law. Each election cycle, a fresh-faced Mayor or state representative will vigilantly try to usurp the veteran, only to find their campaign bankrupt, their personal life and business neglected, and their political swag humbled down a notch. Stand down, kiddos. The veteran plans to continue to deepen the butt dent in his or her seat in Washington until at least the ripe age of 87.

The celebrity
Jon Runyan (R-New Jersey), Jesse Ventura (I-Minnesota)
This sparkly little star didn’t dream of the furious American political melee when s/he was blossoming as a professional comedian, wrestler, actor, or football player. But something happened—an injury, perhaps crow’s feet—that took away the sense of power and public ear-time the celebrity so enjoyed. And one afternoon, the celebrity realizes s/he cares passionately about koala bear rights, and starting an advocacy group or throwing a shebam of a benefit just isn’t enough. So the celebrity files for political office, and wins by a landslide primarily due to name recognition and a feeling of bonding from the public (“I loved her in “love actually,” and the movie’s message tells me she cares about family values and international issues.”) The celebrity doesn’t often last too long after the public sees just how fit he or she actually is to balance a $40-billion-plus checkbook.

The over-zealous freshman
Examples: Kurt Bills (R-Minnesota), Christine O’Donnell (R-Delaware)
Mr. Freshman hasn’t been in office that long—one term, to be exact—but this young’un wants to move up to greater things right now. Sure, just two years ago he was CEO of a mega-windmill company who had never read a bill proposal cover to cover, but believe him, he’s got the knowledge to shape the constitution and write nation-encompassing laws that will affect whether or not citizens have access to health care, how much money will be spent on highway repairs annually, and tax rates for all. Mr. Freshman basically wants to skip from his first year of high school to the fifth year of veterinary school. That might seem like a big change, but he reallllly loves animals, so it will all be okay. Trust him.

The nerd
Examples: Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota, Barbara Boxer (D-California)
Like the celebrity, the nerd never intended to transform into a gladiator for the government. But, sigh, the country requires her beautiful mind, so she will leave her mahogany-trimmed office at a New England university to try to save the nation. Prior to election, the nerd always worked next door to politics but never in the same building. But today, this former litigator/non-profit guru/cancer researcher will awkwardly file into Congress to join the spray-tanned, gelled, suited-up masses. She may write, lobby for, and ultimately pass some of the most well-crafted human services programs the country has ever seen, but she’ll never be able to toss a new definition of rape or anti-immigration zinger around the Washington chambers like the bronzed, mouthiest of her comrades.

– Rachel Green