Watergate Babies

Watergate Babies are Democrats first elected to the United States Congress in the 1974 elections, following President Richard Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal, on August 9, 1974.[1][2]

Tom Downey of New York was the youngest among the "babies", aged 25 upon his election, the minimum age at which one may serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Future Senators Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Paul Simon (D-Illinois), Paul Tsongas (D-Massachusetts), Max Baucus (D-Montana), and Bob Krueger (D-Texas) were also elected to Congress in this election cycle. In November 1974, Democrats picked up 49 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate. This group greatly increased the strength of Northerners and liberals in the House Democratic Caucus. They teamed up with some more senior liberals to strike a blow against the seniority system and overthrew three committee chairmen whom they viewed as too conservative and/or too old to represent the Democratic Party in these prominent positions: William Poage, Wright Patman and F. Edward Hébert.

Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974, is the only Watergate Baby still serving.

"Watergate Babies" can also apply to those Democrats elected to state or local office in 1974.[3][4] "Democrats made substantial state legislative gains in a large number of states in 1974, the Watergate election," the political scientist Malcolm Jewell wrote.[5] Numerous states passed sweeping ethics and public disclosure reforms in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.[6][7] The Center for Public Integrity has compiled a state by state account of governmental political corruption watchdogs, many with roots in the post-Watergate era.[8] A prominent Watergate baby of 1974 who served as Governor of California for a second stint from 2011 to 2019 is Jerry Brown.

"Watergate Babies" has also been used to apply to journalists who entered journalism because of their fascination with the Watergate scandal.[9] "Watergate," David Baumann wrote,[10] "also created a generation of journalists who were not willing to accept politicians at their word. If the journalists who helped uncover the scandal, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, could expose the crimes of a president, then certainly there were crooked politicians elsewhere. Those journalists believed in investigative reporting and became watchdogs who attempted to keep politicians honest.[11]


In 2018 Politico's John A. Lawerence, along with some of the surviving Watergate Babies, reflected on their long-term impact. The magazine concluded that the reforms to the committee structure, and the increased transparency, they worked for had permanently changed Congress as an institution. However, those changes had, Politico argued, helped contribute to the later rise of the New Right and shaped the polarized political climate of the late 2010s.[11]

The Watergate Babies often framed what had previously been policy goals—such as stronger consumer protection and environmental cleanup—as rights, a discursive tactic that Politico noted would later be adopted by conservatives. On the House floor, the new members' willingness to vote as a bloc forced votes on divisive issues that their more senior colleagues had long avoided, another tactic that conservatives successfully emulated. When House sessions later began to be broadcast on television in 1979, another reform the Babies had sought, a younger conservative, Newt Gingrich, began using after-hours "special orders" to attack Democrats, which drew to him the prestige and followers that eventually led to the 1994 Republican takeover of the House, with Gingrich becoming Speaker.[11]

"We came here to take the Bastille," recalled George Miller, who remained in Congress until 2015, one of the last Watergate Babies to retire. "We destroyed the institution by turning the lights on."[11]


  1. ^ Balz, Dan (10 August 1980). "Democrats: Off Track To Some". Washington Post. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  2. ^ Sullivan, Joseph F. (September 14, 1980). "Maguire Faces Rerun Of Tight '78 Race". The New York Times. p. 46. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2012.
  3. ^ Liu, Irene Jay (December 14, 2009). "A 70's flashback at Capitol". timesunion.com.
  4. ^ "The last of the Watergate babies". Democrat and Chronicle. April 2, 2007. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  5. ^ Jewell, Malcolm Edwin (1982). American State Political Parties and Elections. p. 228. ISBN 978-0256026627.
  6. ^ STATE GOVERNMENT, Volumes 65-66 (1992), page 35
  7. ^ Hrenebar, Ronald J.; Thomas, Clive G. Interest Group Politics in the Northeastern States. p. 369. ISBN 978-0-271-02576-6.
  8. ^ "Watchdogs - Accountability: Waste, Fraud and Abuse". Archived from the original on May 6, 2013. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  9. ^ Taylor, Madison (May 17, 2013). "Confessions of a Watergate baby". Times-News.
  10. ^ Baumann, David (June 18, 2011). "The Legacy of Watergate". About.com US Politics. Archived from the original on May 13, 2013. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
  11. ^ a b c d Lawrence, John A. (May 26, 2018). "How the 'Watergate Babies' Broke American Politics". Politico. Retrieved June 3, 2018.

External linksEdit

  • "Rebels of '94 and 'Watergate Babies' Similar In Class Size, Sense of Zeal" at All Politics CNN