Entrepreneurs with new jobs - in Congress

Among the dozens of new faces on Capitol Hill this January will be several small business owners who took seats away from Washington veterans.

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What should be President-elect Obama's first economic priority?
  • Creating jobs
  • Solving the Wall St. crisis
  • Cutting taxes
  • Reducing spending
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Seeing vulnerable incumbents, both parties are backing political outsiders for Congress. Check out these business owners' plans for getting the nation on track.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Election Day was a good one for long-shots and underdogs: Among the dozens of first-timers now headed to Congress are several small business owners who triumphed over Washington incumbents.

Democrat Walt Minnick, a serial entrepreneur and founder of a chain of gardening retailers, squeaked past a seven-term incumbent to capture a House of Representatives seat in what the Idaho Statesman described as "Idaho's biggest political upset in more than a decade." In Colorado, Syscom Systems co-founder Betsy Markey captured a House seat that had been held by Republicans for more than 30 years. And in New Mexico, Democrat Harry Teague, who went from working on oil fields as a teenager to running a $50 million oil-industry services business, beat fellow entrepreneur Ed Tinsley on a platform focused on health care, education, and New Mexico's economic issues.

"I'm tired, but it's a good tired," Teague said Wednesday. He was able to apply his entrepreneurial skill sets to the election by "convincing the customers, or the voters, that my product and service is better than the competitor's."

Another business owner headed to Capitol Hill, Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania, is eager to bring help to struggling local businesses.

"We'll fix the economy in this district, as we've lost a lot of good jobs here," she said. "I'll work with businesses here to keep them strong and growing and I'll be a sales person for the district to attract businesses that want to move to a place with a good quality of life."

Republican challengers faced a harder road this week. Democrats took at least 22 seats in the House from the GOP, according to CNN's latest projections, while Republicans reclaimed four. That left several entrepreneurs running on the Republican ticket facing down defeat.

"Republicans aren't Republicans here; they are people with horns," said Dana Walsh, an interior-design business owner who ran against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for California's 8th District seat. "It wasn't a level playing field."

"This is just a bad time to be a Republican," said Dan East, the owner of Cone Construction Corp. in Albuquerque and a contender for New Mexico's 3rd District.

But entrepreneurs are used to overcoming setbacks, and East isn't daunted by losing his first election. "I'll keep working and come back and do it again in two years," he said. "There's changes that need to be made, and I intend to continue working to make them on a state and national level."

Walsh doesn't anticipate running again, but she's working on a book about her experience of being Republican in ultra-liberal San Francisco. She's looking forward to getting back to business: "Interior design is a personal service, so I had to tell clients that some projects would have to wait. And surprisingly, even if they disagreed with me on a political level, they were supportive and accommodating."

The new representatives elected this week won't be getting back to their business lives any time soon. Kathy Dahlkemper is turning her landscaping business over to her husband, while Harry Teague has already passed on Teaco Energy Services on to his son, who became president of the company in 2006.

"He ran the business without me for the past year while I was campaigning, so it's a natural progression," he said.

But these new Congressional representatives already see parallels between their previous careers and their new ones. Attentive customer service toward voters helped her win hew new job, Dahlkemper believes, and she hopes classic small-business efficiency will keep her there.

"In both business and politics, you need good people in a lean office," she said.

Did you vote for Obama? How do you think the new president will affect your wallet? What do you think Obama needs to do to fix the economy - both in the short run and the long term? What should be first on the new Congress's agenda?

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