For more than three centuries, the College of William and Mary and its alumni have had a deep connection to American politics.
For many, the discussion of the College’s political links begins and ends with Thomas Jefferson, class of 1762. But the actual extent of the College’s alumni and their political activity extends beyond the third president of the United States.
The College has political connections spanning from the 18th century to the present day, counting among its alumni four signatories of the Declaration of Independence, three U.S. presidents, 16 ambassadors and the current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ’65.
While an abundance of the College’s political alumni are also associated with the commonwealth of Virginia, several recent alumni have continued the College’s mark in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Four College graduates served in the 111th Congress — Rep. Michele Bachmann LL.M. ’88 (R-Minn.), Rep. Eric Cantor J.D. ’88 (R-Va.), Rep. Alan Mollohan ’66 (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Dina Titus ’70 (D-Nev.). Two of those, Bachmann and Cantor, won re-election in their respective districts. Titus, a Democrat, narrowly lost her re-election bid, and Mollohan was defeated in the Democratic primary.
According to government professor John McGlennon, the College has a tradition of alumni serving in Congress.
“This obviously benefits the College a lot, to have people who are active in national policy making, and we have been fortunate to see a number of William and Mary alumni in Congress over the years,” he said. “This is a reflection of the high level of interest in government and public policy that we have here.”
In addition to Bachmann and Cantor’s re-election victories, another College alumnus won his way back into Congress. Representative-elect Steve Chabot ’75 (R-Ohio) won election to the House from the district he represented from 1995 to 2009, just two years after losing a re-election bid.
The College nearly had a fourth alumni representative in the 112th Congress. Keith Fimian ’78 ran as the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 11th congressional district, but lost by fewer than 1,000 votes to incumbent Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
College alumni also ran in seven state house and two state senate races in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
While the College’s overall number of alumni in Congress decreased, it is likely that the Republican victories will increase the influence of the three alumni, all Republicans, who will serve in the 112th Congress.
Cantor, who currently serves as the House minority whip, is making a strong push to become majority leader, and Bachmann announced Wednesday that she would seek the position of Republican conference chair.
McGlennon said that Bachmann’s controversial status in the House could diminish her chances of becoming conference chair, but that Cantor’s strong chance of becoming the second-ranking Republican leader could bring attention to the College.
“Given Eric Cantor’s likelihood of serving as Majority Leader, that will give us opportunities to have better access to higher levels [in government] than in the recent past,” he said.