Pro- or anti-Trump political newcomers join US electoral fray

WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of everyday Americans with zero political experience are jumping into the fray for the mid-term congressional elections in a country that has become ever more polarized since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.

AFP has spoken to a dozen or so of these people who have moved past the party-primary stage and will fight for a seat in Congress on November 6, when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and a third of the 100-member Senate are up for grabs, as are myriad local positions.

“We have people in Congress right now who ... don’t know what it’s like” to be without food or proper health care, said Deb Haaland, 57, a Democrat running for a House seat and the distinction of becoming the first Native American woman to serve in Congress.

Haaland has been active in local politics in her native New Mexico. But she says it was Trump’s surprise win that got her interested in joining politics at the national level.

That sentiment is found among many new Democratic hopefuls, including a record number of women, who have left their mark on the American political scene since their sometimes shock victories in the primaries.

A former refugee, Ilhan Omar, 36, could become the first Somali-American woman in the House and one of its first Muslim women.

Ayanna Pressley, a 40-something African-American woman who is trying to move from local politics in Boston to a seat in Washington, promises to be “part of a movement that brings change and a new perspective to Washington.”

Military veteran MJ Hegar is also running for a seat in the House. She is doing so in a district in heavily Republican Texas.

She wants a strong economy and job creation, and also hopes to “end corruption and try to end the giant influence, the special interest in money, and the career politicians who seem like they are ruling on high as if they are safe and not answerable to anyone including their constituents.”

Trump made them do it

But Trump’s arrival in the White House did not move just Democrats to jump into politics but Republicans, too.

Pete Stauber, who worked as a policeman for 22 years, is hoping to win a House seat in Democratic Minnesota to keep what he calls Trump’s pro-growth and pro-jobs agenda going.

He said he is motivated by “my passion for public service, as a police officer, my wife’s in the military.”

Then there’s “Mr. Seafood”: fish monger Johnny Nalbandian is also running in deeply Democratic California in the hope of winning a seat in the House.

“I saw the once great beautiful California go to deterioration. I saw California going towards socialism. I do not want California to be another Venezuela,” he said.

He said he loves what Trump is doing.

“I think it’s time for the philosophers, the career politicians and all the rest to leave Washington and let business people take over.”