Jared Schutz Polis ’96 got a new job Nov. 4. The Internet entrepreneur from Boulder, Colo., asked the people of the state’s 2nd district to “hire” him as their representative in Congress, and on Election Day, a strong majority of voters backed the idea. In an election that will send Michelle Obama ’85 to the White House as first lady next month, Polis was one of six Princetonians to win a congressional or gubernatorial race.
Polis began his career building successful online ventures like ProFlowers.com, but in recent years he has divided his time between startups, corporate boards, an educational nonprofit, and the Colorado board of education, on which he served as an elected member. While turning to government full time will be a significant change, campaigning for office provided him with a useful transition.
“The startup culture is very similar to a campaign culture,” Polis said. “It’s a small group of people, with a relatively flat hierarchy, working long hours. It’s different in that it has a definitive end period. The nature of the work is different. But I was very culturally at home, as someone who has been in and around startups for many years.”
By winning election, Polis became Colorado’s first openly gay congressman, a fact frequently repeated in statewide and national news reports but rarely mentioned in his district, Polis said. Issues such as the economy, global warming, universal health care, and the Iraq war were more prominent topics of discussion.
Two other alumni will join Polis in the freshman class of the 111th Congress. Woodrow Wilson School graduate Jeff Merkley *82, D-Ore., a state representative from the Portland area and speaker of the Oregon House of Representa-tives, was elected to the U.S. Senate. He edged Republican Sen. Gordon Smith in a race that was not called until two days after the polls closed. Classmate Leonard Lance *82, R-N.J., a longtime state legislator, won the open seat for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District in a hard-fought race.
Rep. Jim Marshall ’72, D-Ga., and Rep. John Sarbanes ’84, D-Md., won re-election. Marshall will serve his fourth term, while Sarbanes will begin his second. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond ’60, R-Mo., Princeton’s other sitting member of Congress, was not up for re-election this year. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ’71, a Republican and the only alumnus in a gubernatorial contest, recorded a victory to earn his second four-year term.
While alumni candidates celebrated their victories, excitement about the November election was evident on campus at student events including “White House bicker,” a University-sponsored gathering at Whig Hall where undergraduates watched election-night coverage on large-screen TVs. A Daily Princetonian poll before the election found that 79.3 percent of students backed Barack Obama, compared to 15.6 percent for John McCain. The Prince also reported that 97 percent of political donations from faculty and staff in the last two years went to Democrats.
Some election watchers put aside partisan leanings to view the race through a scientific lens. Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, crunched numbers in his “meta-analysis” of pre-election polls from each state. He predicted Obama would win 364 electoral votes, McCain would win 174, and Obama would win the popular vote 53 percent to 46 percent. The provisional results: a 365-173 edge for Obama in the electoral vote, and a 53-46 split in the popular vote. That near-perfect forecast, Wang wrote in the Princeton Election Consortium blog, is “consistent with the idea that relatively pure polling data can predict outcomes accurately.”