APS News

Physicist Loses Congressional Race in Arizona

By Alaina G. Levine

If it really does take a rocket scientist to fix our problems in the federal government, Arizona voters may not agree. In the race in Arizona’s 7th  Congressional District between incumbent Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva, and Republican Ruth McClung, the unofficial tally was clearly in favor of Grijalva. There were 78,419, or 50.04%, of the votes cast for the Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, vs. 69,386, or 44.27%, for McClung, who works as a physicist for a government contractor. The outcome is almost certain, although at press time some ballots were still being counted.

McClung, who had never run for office before this race, found the experience eye-opening. “It’s very different from science and engineering,” she said. “2 plus 2 no longer equal 4” Surprises included the number of lawsuits that are filed against candidates. Although McClung said she was never sued personally, she did receive “cease and desist orders” and had to hire an attorney.

But she was encouraged by speaking with people on the trail, and by the response she received from the scientific community. “Most people were excited that someone with a science background would run for political office,” she said. The President of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) contacted McClung to express support, and the Arizona Technology Council (ATC), a private, non-profit trade and advocacy association, supported her campaign. “I was the first federal candidate that they had ever endorsed,” McClung noted. Steven G. Zylstra, President and CEO of ATC, characterized this decision as opportunistic. “She represented the kind of candidate who would represent the technology industry in Congress,” he said. “She’s a physicist, works for Raytheon, and understands the unique challenges of this industry. And it looked like she actually had a chance [to win] so it was a good time to weigh in on that campaign.”

McClung was pleased that “many people saw my science background as a plus.” Responding to questions from the public “was hard sometimes because people often want a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but often I had to give more nuanced answers because unless you know all the variables, many things can be more gray,” she explained.

“Running for office was a rewarding experience,” she concluded. “It may not be for everyone, but we need a good representative government and people with a science background certainly can offer a great deal to help our country… I can see myself running again.  It was extremely hard at times, but if you don’t get involved, you can’t make a difference.”

©, 2010, Alaina G. Levine.