WASHINGTON, D.C.--Democrats now have a physicist of their own in the U.S. Congress. In an upset victory yesterday, Rush Holt edged out first-term Republican Mike Pappas to capture New Jersey's 12th district congressional seat. Science lobbyists are welcoming the win, saying it will add sorely needed scientific expertise to the nation's legislative branch.
Holt, a former solar energy researcher and a recent assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in Plainsboro, New Jersey, becomes the second Ph.D. physicist ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The first, Michigan Republican Vernon Ehlers, easily won a fourth term yesterday.
Although Pappas was considered vulnerable because he won by a slim margin in 1996, pundits had mostly discounted Holt's chances. But a prodigious fund-raising effort--used in part to bankroll a series of clever late-campaign television commercials lampooning Pappas's enthusiastic support for Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation of President Clinton--helped propel Holt to victory. The widely publicized TV ads featured Pappas singing "twinkle, twinkle, Kenneth Starr, now we know how brave you are" on the House floor earlier this year.
Holt's win "is a great sign for science and long overdue," says Michael Lubell, a physicist at City College of New York and public affairs director at the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C. "We've had so few people in Congress with personal, professional experience in science."