Where Stars Are Born: Party Conventions Showcase Political Hopefuls

With just two months until the 2020 elections, both Republicans and Democrats used their conventions to spotlight candidates that they view as the face of, or in many instances the future of, their parties. President Donald Trump used his party’s convention to highlight several political newcomers who he thinks will appeal to his populist base and will help further his agenda. Democrats also used their convention to showcase some of their party’s rising stars, focusing on a group of young elected officials who highlight the party’s diversity and growing suburban reach.
Here is a rundown of the political hopefuls that spoke during the Republican and Democratic conventions and whom election-watchers are keeping their eye on as Election Day draws near.

 


DEMOCRATS

Nikki Fried
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Nikki Fried is the first woman elected to this position and is currently the only Democratic statewide elected official. She won her post in 2018, during a cycle in which Republicans won the governorship and one of Florida’s two Senate seats. Last month, Fried acknowledged that she is considering a run for governor in 2022. Fried is a native Floridian, born and raised in Miami and a graduate of the University of Florida, where she served as student body president, and the University of Florida College of Law. Prior to serving as Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, she was a public defender for the state’s 8th judicial circuit court. She then worked as a foreclosure defense lawyer and a lobbyist before opening her own lobbying firm in 2016, where she advocated for at-risk children, the Broward County School Board, and expanded access to medical marijuana.


Yvanna Cancela
Nevada State Legislator

As the first Latina to serve in the Nevada State Senate, Yvanna Cancela represents that state’s 10th district, which includes the Las Vegas Strip and parts of East Las Vegas. In her speech at the Democratic National Convention, Cancela highlighted the importance of state legislative elections this year due to future redistricting efforts. Before joining the Nevada State Senate, Cancela was the political director for the Culinary Workers Union, giving her strong ties to the powerful Nevada labor movement, and serves as executive director of the Immigrant Workers Citizenship Project. When Ruben Kihuen was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2017, Cancela was selected to represent his former seat. Born in Phoenix to Cuban immigrants, Cancela grew up in Miami before graduating from Northwestern University. In the summer of 2009, she interned for former U.S. Senator Harry Reid.


Sam Park
Georgia State Legislator

Georgia State Representative Sam Park is the grandson of refugees from the Korean War, attended Georgia State University and has represented Georgia’s 101st district since 2017. He was the first openly gay man elected to Georgia’s state legislature, and the first Asian American Democrat elected to the state’s General Assembly. He serves as Deputy Whip of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus and Vice-Chair of the Gwinnett State House Delegation. Park was inspired to run for state office following his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis and is an advocate for Medicare and Medicaid expansion. Park represents a seat in Gwinnett County, in the Atlanta suburbs, which he flipped in 2016 with a narrow win. Park won reelection in 2018 by double digits, when Democrats gained 11 seats in the state House. During his convention address, Park chose to focus on COVID, as Georgia has the highest rate of new cases in the country, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force report. He noted that the Gwinnett County Public Schools plan to bring students and teachers back to school during the coronavirus pandemic without proper safety mechanisms in place.


Malcolm Kenyatta
Penn. State Legislator

At 30 years old, Malcolm Kenyatta is one of the youngest members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and the only Black and LGBTQ person elected to the state’s legislature. Kenyatta is a North Philadelphia native and graduate from Temple University, which is located in the 181st district that he represents. In his national address at the Democratic National Convention, Kenyatta appeared alongside his fiancé Matthew Miller and emphasized his personal connection to Joe Biden, who was an early supporter for gay marriage. Before representing the 181st district, Kenyatta was a community activist, political consultant, and was elected as a representative to the Democratic National Convention in 2016. During his convention speech, Kenyatta focused on the struggles of service workers in 2020 and has built a strong record of support for racial justice initiatives.

REPUBLICANS

Kim Klacik
Candidate for MD-7

Running on a platform of change is Kim Klacik, the GOP candidate for Maryland’s 7th District, formerly represented by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Klacik became an internet sensation after airing a campaign ad called “Black Lives Don’t Matter to Democrats,” in which she gave voters a walking tour of her Baltimore neighborhood while blasting Democratic politicians for neglecting Black people. The video shows her pointing out abandoned buildings, broken windows and piles of trash on the city streets of the Democratic stronghold she hopes to represent. Her blunt yet powerful message to Black voters — that that have been taken for granted and poorly represented by Democrats for too long — earned her the support of President Trump and a speaking role at the GOP convention. Owner of the nonprofit “Potential Me,” which provides workforce development services to underserved women, Klacik is a long-shot yet dynamic candidate in a district where Democrats have a 26-point advantage.


Sean Parnell
Candidate for PA-17

Sean Parnell is a former Army Infantry Captain with the Elite 10th Mountain Division and veteran of a harrowing firefight with Al Qaeda in the Hindu Kish mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border. He earned a Purple Heart and went on to write a NY Times bestselling book called “Outlaw Platoon” that recounts his experience commanding a 40-man infantry platoon as a 24-year-old Army Ranger, and how 16 months in combat along Afghanistan’s eastern frontier transformed his life and connected him with his fellow soldiers. Running in Pennsylvania’s 17th district against incumbent Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), Parnell is said to be one of President Trump’s favorite candidates in the 2020 race (the president labeling him an “American hero” on Twitter). He is campaigning on a pro-military, pro-veteran platform while stressing the importance of leadership and collaboration to solve America’s problems.


Madison Cawthorn
Candidate for NC-11

Madison Cawthorn, a 25-year-old business owner and motivational speaker running in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, pulled off an upset in the primary race to fill former Rep. Mark Meadows’ seat. President Trump, who backed his opponent in the primary, has since called Cawthorn a political star and awarded him a prominent speaking slot in the convention. Paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a car accident in his teens, Cawthorn said his injury inspired him to enter politics and that he is encouraging other young Americans to follow him in the fight against “liberal ideology that seems to have taken root in our generation.” He has pitched himself as a conservative answer to “the Squad” — the group of young, progressive members of the House that includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — calling the Democratic lawmakers “agents of post-Americanism” in a recent campaign ad. If elected, Cawthorn would replace AOC as the youngest member of Congress.


Burgess Owens
Candidate for UT-4

Burgess Owens played in the NFL as a safety for the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders between 1973 and 1982. Owens said that after leaving the NFL as a “cocky liberal,” he started a business with his brother that eventually went bankrupt. He later moved his family of six into a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn where he took a job as a chimney sweep during the day and a security guard at night. In 2012 Owens moved to Utah where he founded Second Chance 4 Youth, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping troubled and incarcerated youth. Owens’ campaign is focused on protecting the Second Amendment, supporting pro-life legislation, lowering the cost of higher education, lowering taxes and creating jobs in Utah.