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Politicians Who Really Understand Business

Meet four of the entrepreneurs applying their small-business skills to the campaign trail as they run for Congress.
These candidates mean business: John Dennis, Thomas Massie, Linda McMahon, and Jim Graves, left to right.
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Mitt Romney is the latest in a long line of successful business people who think they know how to fix the country. Success in business, of course, doesn't always translate to political stardom. (Herbert Hoover was successful in business; so was Jimmy Carter.) But here are a few of the company founders--we counted 18 still in the race at presstime--who hope to win seats in Congress this November.
 

John Dennis ★ Republican

Twelfth District, California

His chances:  It's a long shot

John Dennis is a libertarian-minded Republican running against former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Democratic epicenter of San Francisco, but he has never backed away from long odds. In the mid-1980s, he helped start Humanscale, a company that led the way in ergonomic design for office furniture. After that, Dennis launched a string of technology start-ups in the midst of the tech bubble before going on to create Foundation Real Estate, an investment company that he still runs. Dennis got bitten by the politics bug in 2007, when he volunteered on Ron Paul's first presidential campaign, and he went on to run a well-funded race against Pelosi in 2010. This year looks even tougher, though. This summer, Pelosi had already raised $1.6 million to Dennis's $93,000. Undaunted, Dennis is convinced that the only way the economy and jobs will grow is if "government gets out of the way" of business.

 

Jim Graves ★ Democrat

Sixth District, Minnesota

His chances:  Too close to call

Jim Graves, the founder of the AmericInn hotel chain and CEO of Graves World Hospitality, is running against Michele Bachmann. Unseating Bachmann, a conservative icon who raised more than $12 million during her failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination, will be quite a challenge, but Graves, who emphasizes his business acumen on the campaign trail, says he can do it. Here's his analysis of the market: In 2008, Bachmann won with 46 percent of the vote, versus 43 percent for her Democratic rival and another 10 percent for an Independence Party candidate. This year, Graves has secured a pledge from the Independence Party not to run anyone. A self-described moderate Democrat, Graves says he has nothing against Bachmann personally but thinks her brand of "slash-and-burn partisanship" can only make the country's troubles worse.

 

Thomas Massie ★ Republican

Fourth District, Kentucky

His chances: He's a shoo-in

In 2003, Thomas Massie cashed out of SensAble Technologies, a Woburn, Massachusetts-based tech company he founded while at MIT, and moved back to his rural Kentucky hometown with his high school sweetheart (and former MIT classmate), Rhonda. The couple bought 1,200 acres and built a farm using only the stone and wood they found on the property, generating their own electricity and growing their own food. In other words, they were about as far off the grid as people can get in modern America. They might sound like back-to-the-earth hippies, but Massie and his wife just wanted to escape from the corporate rat race--a sentiment that later drew him to the Tea Party and its hero, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Most recently, Massie served as the waste-and-abuse-busting judge-executive of tiny Lewis County, Kentucky. In May, he won the Republican congressional primary, making him the presumptive winner of the conservative district.

 

Linda McMahon ★ Republican

U.S. Senate, Connecticut

Her chances: Too close to call

To headline writers in Connecticut, Linda McMahon is the gift that keeps on giving: Not only are she and her husband, Vince, famous for their crazy on-screen antics as the founders of the wrestling juggernaut WWE, but she also pumped $50 million of her own money into her Tea Party-endorsed candidacy for a losing U.S. Senate bid in 2010. Now, as Joe Lieberman retires, opening up the state's other Senate seat, McMahon has once again stepped into the ring (it's just too easy!). McMahon is a tough-minded business woman who has helped build a nearly $600 million global entertainment empire. But for someone famous for wild stunts, McMahon plays it safe on the campaign trail, hewing to established conservative talking points about fiscal responsibility and limited government. That may be a tough sell in a state that hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1982. But McMahon just might pull it off: A June poll showed her in a statistical dead heat with the Democratic front-runner, Congressman Christopher Murphy.

 

Entrepreneurs Voted Into Congress

When Republicans swept the midterm elections in 2010, gaining 63 seats in the House, many of them were entrepreneurs.

2008   
11 of 65 new members: 4 Republicans, 7 Democrats

2010   
33 of 109 new members: 33 Republicans, 0 Democrats

Source: The New York Times

Last updated: Aug 24, 2012

RYAN UNDERWOOD

Ryan Underwood is a writer and editor living in Nashville, Tennessee.




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