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Senator Hook

Nontraditional politician Steve Novick is running an insurgent campaign for the Senate in Oregon.


When Steve Novick, the maverick Democratic candidate for United States Senate, stands in a living room in Portland, Oregon, the first thing you notice about him, naturally, is the hook. Born missing an arm and both calf bones, Novick wields a stainless-steel hook in place of his left hand, and stands well below five feet tall. And if this weren't an obvious enough deviation from the standard political mold, his clothes are rumpled and his hair is a formless mop. "I'm Steve Novick," he begins, "and I'm running for Senate because the country's going to hell in a handbasket and somebody's got to do something about it."The audience on this night-about a dozen of the kind of political junkies who have cocktails with candidates eight months before the primaries-twitters, and at first isn't clear whether they're laughing because they agree with the man or because the spectacle is so odd. Yet before long, Novick, mixing knowing self-satire with unvarnished outrage, manages to gather the room to his side. This group of hard-boiled politicos begins to think that electing Novick could indeed be a good idea. And not just because it would be awesome-in an Age-of-Irony-meets-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean way-to have a senator with a hook for a hand.A 44-year-old attorney (he was the lead counsel on the Love Canal case), with a long track record as a liberal activist in Oregon state politics, Novick delivers a straight shot of idealism. "I was raised to believe that we can't tolerate a society that only works for white people, rich people, or straight people," he says to the gathering. "We should only accept a society that works for everyone." He breezes through his ideas on capital-gains tax reform and universal health care. He promises to cosponsor the tough Sanders-Boxer global-warming bill, and that he'll try to make it easier for workers to unionize. On every issue, he speaks with a straightforwardness that would give most campaign consultants apoplexy. The crowd loves it. When Novick's on his game, his appearance-call it "nontraditional"-is charisma personified. And he's not above using that hook as a selling point, either. "We'll shamelessly exploit it whenever we can," he says. "Our T-shirts say ‘Hooked on Novick.'"\n\n\n
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Our T-shirts say ‘Hooked on Novick.'
That's the confidence that led Novick, who's never held elected office, to challenge a two-term incumbent-the Republican Gordon Smith. In contrast to Novick, Smith embodies Hollywood's idea of a coiffed patrician. He has also worked hard to craft a moderate image palatable to Oregon. Still, in a place where the Bush administration is wildly unpopular, Smith, the only Republican holding statewide office, should have made for a juicy target in 2008. Yet all of Oregon's A-list Democrats passed up the race.Enter Novick, with a chutzpah one would expect from a man who enrolled in college at age 14 and made it into Harvard Law by 18. He appears undeterred by the fact that the Democratic establishment, worried about his viability as a candidate, recruited Jeff Merkley, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, to oppose him in a primary. While Merkley's insider status and expected fundraising advantage have much of the Oregon media referring to him as the "likely" nominee, Novick thinks his insurgent approach-one that proved successful for Democrats in 2006 Senate races in Montana and Virginia-is the right weapon to take down a slick incumbent.\n\n\n
The Oregon Democratic primary between Novick and Merkley will take place on May 20, 2008.
"[The establishment] goes with someone in office already or who has a pile of money," he says. "Gordon Smith is a highly talented traditional politician, and he's not going to lose to another traditional politician."A long shot? No doubt. But tonight's hostess sports a campaign button emblazoned with a hook silhouetted against the Stars and Stripes. And by the end of Novick's speech, people are reaching for their checkbooks.
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