He spent nearly a decade undercover with the CIA in the Middle East and Asia, but don’t expect Will Hurd to keep a low profile when he arrives in Congress.
Hurd, 37, heads to Capitol Hill from Texas’s massive 23rd district — the state’s largest, it shares 800 miles of border with Mexico — following his upset victory Tuesday over Democratic representative Pete Gallego. At a time when one of the GOP’s top priorities is broadening its appeal to blue-collar and minority voters, Hurd’s victory is instructive. He joins Utah’s Mia Love as one of two black Republican House members, and he won in a district whose residents are mostly Hispanic.
This isn’t Hurd’s first bite at the apple: He ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 GOP primary for the same seat. This year, in an election cycle in which immigration and foreign policy became key issues, Hurd’s national-security expertise proved crucial. Those credentials helped him unite establishment Republicans and grassroots voters in the general election to pull out a win.
“It all kind of came together at the right time for him,” says Texas-based Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “I don’t know if he’ll be a tea-party member, but I don’t think he’ll be an establishment member either. Part of the equation that he realized [from his previous run for Congress] was bringing the different aspects of the party together.”
Born and raised in the Lone Star State, Hurd saw his first turn in elected office — as president of the student body at Texas AM — shaped by tragedy. During preparations for the school’s annual Aggie Bonfire, a 40-foot-tall log structure collapsed, killing a dozen students and injuring 27. A grieving campus looked to Hurd. He answered the call, organizing volunteers in the aftermath and serving as a voice for the devastated student body in national media appearances.
After graduation, he joined the CIA, spending most of his time undercover in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, covertly gathering foreign intelligence for the U.S. government. “I was the guy in the back alleys at 4 a.m.,” he tells National Review Online.
In his briefings with lawmakers on his returns stateside, he realized what he could bring to Congress, given his rare background and skill set. Though the race didn’t attract much national attention, Hurd did manage to draw some big-name supporters. He was former secretary of defense Robert Gates’s only endorsee of the cycle, and John Bolton’s super PAC maxed out on its donations to his campaign. In an e-mail, the former UN ambassador says Hurd’s CIA experience “uniquely qualified him to articulate what the United States needs to do to defend itself and its citizens in the war on terror and more broadly.”
“Especially when some, even in the Republican party, wildly distort what our intelligence agencies actually do, who better to set them straight in House and Senate caucus meetings than a veteran of the intelligence community?” Bolton says.
Tea-party favorite Allen West, whose Guardian Fund also poured money into the race, now says he wants the freshman on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence “immediately.”
Mackowiak expects Republicans to showcase Hurd early and often. “He will have a higher profile than the average freshman member would,” he says. West concurs. “When you look at the type of environment that Will Hurd has had to operate in, he’s not going to sit in some back corner,” he says.
That new environment may be a change of pace for Hurd after spending years trying to avoid the limelight, but he says he is up for it. “I was able to navigate the back alleys of Pakistan — I think I’ll be able to navigate the halls of Congress,” he says.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.