Eight candidates with science degrees that have a shot in the 2018 midterm elections

Lauren Underwood is among several candidates leaving their previous careers to run for office.
Lauren Underwood is among several candidates leaving their previous careers to run for office.
Image: AP Photo/Teresa Crawford
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There are 435 seats in the US House of Representatives. After the 2016 presidential election, Americans with some training in science attempted to fill 48 of those, and shift the balance of the Republican-majority Congress. Thirty failed to make it past primary elections, leaving 18 on the ballots tomorrow for the 2018 midterm elections in seven states. Science Magazine has predicted that eight of those will at least be competitive in tomorrow’s race. Here’s how they stack up:

The veteran engineer with a mind for business: Chrissy Houlahan

Running in: Pennsylvania’s sixth district

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Houlahan, 50, holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University and a master’s degree in technology policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has also served in the Air Force, working on electronic communication systems.

Political background: This is Houlahan’s first campaign. In addition to her military service, she has worked as a high-school chemistry teacher and served in executive roles for retail company AND1 Basketball; Springboard Collaborative, a non-profit group focused on literacy; and B-lab, a non-profit that certifies for-profit companies’ transparency and accountability. Despite being new to politics, Houlahan managed to run a successful campaign—it was so effective, in fact, that she ran unopposed as a Democrat in the state’s primaries in May 2018.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Healthcare is a top priority for Houlahan. She wants to expand the Affordable Care Act, lower drug costs, and augment paid family and medical leave. She also pledges to improve public schools and protect the environment.

Running against: Republican Greg McCauley. (Ryan Costello, the Republican incumbent, is stepping down this year.)

Chances of winning: 99.2%, per FiveThirtyEight (as of publication time).

The dentist and prior state senator: Jeff van Drew

Running in: New Jersey second district

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Van Drew, 65, holds a doctor of dental medicine degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.

Political experience: Van Drew has spent three terms as a New Jersey state senator.  Although he has strong backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, critics within the party have noted that he has taken money from the National Rifle Association and voted against some environmental-protection laws and gay marriage in the past.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Van Drew promises to make college more affordable and pay equal among men and women. He also wants to see stronger border security and legal action against those who employ undocumented immigrants. He wants to reform the Affordable Care Act and lower prescription drug prices, uphold net neutrality and prevent offshore drilling off the coast of New Jersey.

Running against: Seth Grossman, a Republican whom party members have recently distanced themselves from after he shared a racist post on social media.

Chances of winning: 97.9%, per FiveThirtyEight.

The registered nurse and health policy expert: Lauren Underwood

Running in: Illinois’ 14th district

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Underwood, 32, is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in health policy.

Political experience: Underwood, a first-time candidate, won her primary with 57% of the vote. She previously worked for the US Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama. Joe Biden recently rallied for her.

Noteworthy stances on issues: She’s big on affordable healthcare; Underwood is a nurse, and says she has intimate knowledge of what it means to be unable to afford healthcare in the US. As a child, she was treated for a pediatric heart condition, “so it’s personal, too,” Underwood told Science magazine. She’s also pro-reproductive rights, emphasizes the importance of strong environmental protections, and is an advocate for more investment in renewable energy—which might go over well in her district, which is adjacent to two US Department of Energy labs, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.

Running against: Incumbent Randy Hultgren, a conservative Republican who campaigned with Trump, and has advocated for repealing the Affordable Care Act and pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Chances of winning: 69.3% per FiveThirtyEight.

The ticked-off pediatrician: Kim Schrier

Running in: Washington’s eighth district

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Schrier is a pediatrician with a medical degree from the University of California-Davis and a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from University of California-Berkeley.

Political background: Schrier first became involved in politics during the 2016 US presidential election, when she campaigned for Hillary Clinton. After Trump took the presidency, she participated in the Women’s March. She decided to run for office after her former representative, Republican Dave Reichert, voted for a 2017 bill that would slash healthcare for thousands of residents in his district, despite the in-person pleas of Schrier and other physicians in the eighth district. She decided to go after his seat (although he later stepped down). “I was ticked off. Frankly, if Congress was doing its job, I would not have to run for office. I would be back holding little babies. But times have changed,” she told campaign volunteers earlier this year.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Schrier is a pediatrician and herself has type 1 diabetes, and healthcare is a big issue for her. Schrier wants to expand the the Affordable Care Act, lower prescription drug costs, and develop programs to combat the opioid epidemic. She also wants to implement programs that would increase vaccination rates and supports background checks for all gun owners that would prohibit anyone with a history of domestic violence, stalking, violent criminal records, or severe mental illness from owning guns.  

Running against: Reichert has held the seat since 2005; Dino Rossi is the Republican challenger.

Chances of winning: 67.2%, per FiveThirtyEight.

The outspoken chemical engineer: Sean Casten

Running in: Illinois’ sixth district

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Casten holds masters degrees in engineering management and biochemical engineering from Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, and undergraduate degrees in molecular biology and biochemistry from Middlebury College in Vermont. In 2007 he founded Recycled Energy Development, LLC, which aimed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by trapping and reusing energy, like heat, from industrial facilities.

Political experience: Casten is a first-time candidate, and doesn’t mince words. He called the GOP “the pedophile party” after some members endorsed Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for a senate seat previously occupied by Jeff Sessions in 2017; GOP donors “morons;” and the first permanent English-speaking settlement in North America “horrible people” who “did not assimilate” and “were vectors of disease.” Casten beat out six other Democrats in the primaries.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Casten has a thorough platform on energy and environmental policy, and wants to enact laws that would lower carbon emissions while incentivizing clean-energy innovation for economic gains. He also wants to expand the Affordable Care Act to universal health care, repeal Republican tax laws, and reform student debt to allow people to refinance their loans at lower rates.

Running against: Peter Roskam, the Republican incumbent who has held the seat for 12 years.

Chances of winning: 47.7%, per FiveThirtyEight.

The Navy commander and nuclear engineer: Elaine Luria

Running in: Virginia’s second district

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Luria has a master’s degree in engineering management, and was one of the first women to attend the US Naval Nuclear Power School, according to her website. She spent 20 years in the Navy and was deployed six times. On the USS Enterprise, Luria was in charge of eight nuclear reactors, and for training the 700 nuclear operators onboard.

Political experience: First-time candidate.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Affordable healthcare, funding for education, and equal pay are at the top of Luria’s list. She is also an advocate for gun reform, and wants to repeal the Dickey Amendment, which currently prohibits the US Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence. She is also an advocate for more robust military and veterans’ services—her district has one of the highest concentrations of military personnel in the country.

Running against: Scott Taylor, a Republican who is also a Navy vet.

Chances of winning: 32.9% per FiveThirtyEight.

The wilderness advocate with a career in state politics: Kathleen Williams

Running in: Montana, for the state’s at-large seat in the US House of Representatives (it only has one)

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Williams has a master’s degree in natural resources with an emphasis on wild and scenic rivers.

Political experience: Williams was elected to the Montana state house of representatives in 2010, and served three two-year terms there. Before that, she worked at Montana’s fish, wildlife, and parks department, and the US Forest Service.

Noteworthy stances on issues: She wants to lower prescription drug prices and advocates for improved healthcare access for people with preexisting conditions. She says she’ll work with Montana’s Native tribes to address the “intertwined issues of poverty, jobs, wages, and education on our reservations,” and wants to protect Montana’s wilderness. She also intends to fight the Trump administration’s decision to welcome applications for new uses of asbestos, which is of special interest in Montana: in the town of Libby, Montana, several thousand people have died or were sickened by a nearby mine.

Running against: Greg Gianforte, a Republican who assaulted a journalist before the state’s 2017 special election.

Chances of winning: 24.2, per FiveThirtyEight.

The ocean engineer-turned-environmental lawyer: Joe Cunningham

Running in: South Carolina’s first district, which spans much of that state’s coastline.

Party: Democrat

Scientific background: Environmental attorney, formerly an ocean engineer. He has a bachelor’s of science in ocean engineering and a law degree.

Political experience: First-time candidate.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Cunningham opposes offshore drilling, and is keen to support renewable energy projects and other efforts to curb climate change, to which his state is particularly vulnerable. “I believe climate change is the single greatest non-military threat to our nation—especially living in a coastal region, where we see the impacts of rising sea levels and harsh storm systems firsthand,” he says on his campaign website.

Running against: Katie Arrington, a Republican and a first-time candidate. That said, it’s rare for South Carolina’s first district seat to be open, and it has historically been held by a Republican.

Chances of winning: 8.7%, per FiveThirtyEight.