Photo: Brett Neely
WASHINGTON – A week ago, Rick Nolan was waiting for the polls to close and the vote-counting to begin in what seemed like one of the tightest and most expensive congressional races in the country against first-term Republican Chip Cravaack.
Today, after a nine point victory, a week of celebrations, deer hunting and a flight to Washington, Nolan found himself standing on a stage in the basement of the U.S. Capitol with dozens of members of his incoming class of Democratic lawmakers.
While Democrats gained at best eight or nine House seats last week, fewer than the 25 they needed to recapture control of the lower chamber, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi confidently strode onto the stage and described the election as a victory for Democrats, calling Nolan and the other Democrats, “a picture of America” for their diversity.
Nolan is no stranger to Congress or political speeches, having served three terms in the House in the 1970s. But on Tuesday he was still settling in for a second time, introducing himself to fellow new members, fiddling with his new members badge, needed to bypass security checkpoints that are required of non-members, and learning how to navigate the cavernous, underground Capitol Visitors Center where most of the orientation activities are taking place.
“This is one of the few things that wasn’t here when I was there and I am finding my way around it,” said Nolan. “It’s quite nice, actually.”
The youngest member of Nolan’s class of Democrats, Patrick Murphy of Florida, 29, had not been born when Nolan first retired from lawmaking in 1981. But Nolan, 68, spoke like someone decades younger when describing his eagerness to get to work.
“I’m sure I was excited when I served earlier in life in my youth, but I can’t imagine I was as excited as I am now. I just feel so well-prepared and optimistic about the prospects.”
Nolan and other new lawmakers will spend the time between now and their swearing-in on Jan. 3 setting up their offices.