On the Democratic side, candidates have historically been less likely to adopt the persona of the insurgent outsider, and Democratic organizations have normally preferred to recruit and reward candidates for Congress who have previously served as elected officials. (From the party's point of view, potential congressional nominees who have already attained positive name recognition among voters, who have built extensive fundraising networks, and who can boast a successful track record in managing political campaigns have normally been considered the safest bets to perform well in general elections.) Thus even the national Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008 did not produce freshman classes packed with self-styled "anti-politicians" who had won their seats by advertising their status as electoral newcomers.
This year, however, many of the Democratic nominees in competitive districts lack previous elective experience—a pattern that could foreshadow a more reformist House if the 2018 elections return the Democrats to power. But these new Democratic "amateurs" are still not exactly the mirror images of their Republican counterparts. As Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report recently wrote after interviewing twelve Democratic challengers in pivotal House districts:
Only four of the 12 hold elective office or have ever run for office. Most of the others, however, are policy veterans. Some worked in the Obama White House or other branches of the federal government during the Obama era. Others worked as advocates in their states/districts on issues ranging from voting rights to child advocacy to housing issues. In other words, they aren’t your local dentists or lawyers or business owners who suddenly got "fed up" or "activated" to service. Their lives have long been defined by activism of one sort or another.
Walter doesn't name the specific subjects of her interviews, but it's not hard to identify candidates who fit this description. Here are a few examples of Democratic House candidates who have never held elective office but have served in government or as policy activists, all from competitive seats that the Cook Report currently classifies as "Tossup" or "Lean Republican/Democratic" in the coming election:
Katie Hill (California 25): Anti-homelessness non-profit organization executive
Lauren Baer (Florida 18): Former State Department staffer
Lauren Underwood (Illinois 14): Former Heath and Human Services Department staffer
Cindy Axne (Iowa 3): Former state employee and local education activist
Elissa Slotkin (Michigan 8): Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, CIA analyst, and White House national security staffer
Susie Lee (Nevada 3): Education non-profit organization executive
Andy Kim (New Jersey 3): Former White House National Security Council member and State Department staffer
Tom Malinowski (New Jersey 7): Former Assistant Secretary of State and White House National Security Council member
Leslie Cockburn (Virginia 5): Journalist, author, and environmental organizations board member
Abigail Spanberger (Virginia 7): Former CIA operations officer
It appears that even non-traditional congressional candidates get ahead in the Democratic Party by promoting themselves as holding relevant political or governmental experience, even if it's not specifically elective experience. Voters in Republican primaries chiefly demand ideological qualifications, but voters in Democratic primaries also value policy expertise—a natural asymmetry given that Democratic constituencies have a much greater perceived interest in effective government action. (Recall that in the liberal fantasyland of the West Wing TV show, the Democratic president was a Nobel Prize-winning economics professor who also spoke four languages and was an excellent chess player with a mind for trivia.)
Even the non-"career politician" bloc among future House Democrats is therefore likely to have less of a purist, insurgent character than was displayed by the aggressively anti-establishment Republican freshmen of 1994 and 2010. At the same time, the first order of business for newly-elected Democratic members after the November election will be a leadership vote that could well result in a shakeup deposing one or more of the current regime. So while they won't have come to Washington to attack government itself, this potential new generation of first-time legislators may still be in a position to bring immediate change to Capitol Hill.