Some Claremont alumni fall short in 2020 election

A white man in front of a blue and red donkey sign
In a tight race earlier this week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock CM ’88 lost his Senate race. (Courtesy: Steven Ferdman)

While former Claremont Graduate University student Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was reelected by a large margin, three alumni of the Claremont Colleges each lost to their Republican opponents in the 2020 U.S. House and Senate races, with one more race still undecided.

Steve Bullock CM ’88

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock CM ’88 lost his Senate race to incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., by just under 10 percentage points.  

I am not naive, but I am sufficiently idealistic enough to believe that Washington could work a lot better,” Bullock wrote in his concession statement. “Montana has been a gift to me, and given me more than I could ever give back. I have been so grateful to have served as Montana’s governor and attorney general.”

This senatorial race was one of the most expensive in the nation and was key for Republicans to maintain their Senate majority. Bullock’s campaign spent $82 million compared to Daines’ $63 million, according to recent data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.

President Donald J. Trump endorsed Daines in August, and they held a brief “tele-rally” together in October, which consisted of a conference call for supporters and reporters.

Bullock unsuccessfully ran to be the Democratic nominee in the 2020 presidential election. He appeared in a few televised debates before withdrawing from the race last December.

Candace Valenzuela CM ’06

Democrat Candace Valenzuela CM ’06 is trailing Republican Beth Van Duyne in her quest to represent Texas’ 24th Congressional District in an open seat vacated by retiring Republican Kenny Marchant. 

Van Duyne is leading by just more than 1 percentage point with 94 percent of the votes tallied, according to The New York Times

“This race is too close to call and thousands of votes are still being counted,” Valenzuela’s campaign manager Geoff Simpson said in a public statement Nov. 4.

Valenzuela, a school board member, would become the first ever Afro-Latina to serve in Congress. She graduated from Claremont McKenna College on a full scholarship, becoming the first college graduate in her family. 

Her opponent previously served as the first female mayor of her hometown and received an endorsement from Trump via Twitter last February.  

Although all votes were not accounted for by late Tuesday, Van Duyne still declared victory, telling her supporters that her lead was too large to be caught. 

Simpson called Van Duyne’s declaration “premature and irresponsible” in a public statement. “Our campaign is committed to a full and complete count of all ballots so that every vote is counted and every voice is heard.” 

“Obviously, I am very disappointed in the loss of Steve Bullock and the apparent loss of Candace Valenzuela,” John Pitney, CMC government professor and Bullock’s former thesis adviser, said. “They are friends, and I feel for them. And they would have been good for the country, each offering a distinct voice to Congress.”

Pitney worked with Valenzuela during her time on campus and called Van Duyne’s early declaration of victory “inappropriate.” 

“Politicians need to have a touch of class,” he said.

Valenzuela outraised Van Duyne $4,070,282 to $2,853,069, according to Federal Election Commission records from last month.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell PZ ’92

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., PZ ’92, a first-term congresswoman who was elected in 2018 to represent Florida’s 26th Congressional District, lost her race to Republican challenger and current Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez by over 3 percentage points.    

Although Mucarsel-Powell was favored to win, it was still one of the most vulnerable House seats for Democrats, according to experts.    

It has been the greatest honor of my life to have served Florida’s 26th Congressional District,” Mucarsel-Powell wrote on Facebook Thursday. “I want to congratulate Carlos Gimenez on his victory. I’m committed to helping with a smooth transition process.”

Mucarsel-Powell received her bachelor’s degree in political science from Pitzer College, then earned a master’s degree in international political economy from CGU in 1996, according to her campaign website.

She is the first Ecuadorian American and first South American immigrant member of Congress. She is also the first non-Cuban to represent her district since the 1980s. Mucarsel-Powell serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

Kara Eastman PZ ’93

Kara Eastman PZ ’93 is a progressive Democrat who lost her race for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District to incumbent Republican Rep. Don Bacon by nearly 5 percentage points. 

This was Eastman’s second attempt to unseat Bacon. She lost by 2 percentage points in 2018. Bacon increased his margin of victory to just under 4 percentage points this time around. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden carried the 2nd Congressional District, earning him one electoral vote, but many Biden voters crossed party lines to give Bacon the victory.    

Eastman became emotional during part of her post-defeat speech. 

“I promised all of you … that we would run a campaign that didn’t put winning over integrity,” she said. She also mentioned her “Pitzer pod” of supporters in her list of thank-yous. 

Eastman, who campaigned on offering “Medicare for All,” defeated Ann Ashford, former Rep. Brad Ashford’s wife, in the Democratic primary, coming as a surprise to people familiar with the race.

After graduating from Pitzer in 1993, she received her Master of Social Work degree from Loyola University Chicago.

Tom Cotton

Cotton, a one-year attendee of CGU, was reelected by a wide margin. 

Cotton’s Democratic challenger, Josh Mahoney, dropped out of the race earlier this year, leaving  Cotton to face Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. 

A Harvard graduate, Cotton started in the master’s degree program at CGU but ultimately dropped out after finding academic life “too sedentary.”

Last month, the Associated Press reported that Cotton’s campaign schedule had “all the hallmarks of someone focused on the White House in 2024.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said Kara Eastman defeated former Rep. Brad Ashford in the Democratic primary. Eastman defeated his wife, Ann Ashford, in the 2020 Democratic primary. TSL regrets this error.


This article was updated Nov. 6 at 2:03 p.m.

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