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AMHERST DEKE CHRIS COONS: AN INFLUENTIAL VOICE IN U.S. SENATE

In the stratified world of American politics, Sen. Chris Coons is one of the rare statesmen who is respected on both sides of the aisle. Maybe it’s because the 60-year-old Democrat, who pledged DKE at Sigma Amherst, spent his formative years as a Republican. A stalwart in the Senate since assuming office in 2010, Coons serves as one of President Joe Biden’s closest advisors. Two years after Biden left the Senate to become Barack Obama’s vice president, Coons became Delaware’s junior senator. His connection to Biden, also from Delaware, has only grown stronger over the years, although Coons continues to show the rare ability to connect with both Democrats and Republicans.

He was a Republican at Amherst and as a 17-year-old worked hard to help elect Ronald Reagan in 1980. Responding to an assertion in the New York Times that he can “speak Republican,” Coons joked, “I would say it’s my mother tongue.”

He once described himself during his years at Amherst and the Deke House as “sort of an Alex P. Keaton,” referring to the fictional Ronald Reagan-loving teenager from the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties.” “George Will was one of my heroes,” he added.


His political conversion came after he grew disillusioned with U.S. policy in South Africa and was exposed to extreme poverty while studying in Kenya. Just a year after he helped found a college Republican group at Amherst, he was arguing the Democratic side in on-campus debates. It set a new life course for Coons.

A respected scholar at Amherst where in 1985 he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and chemistry, Coons went on to Yale University. He received both a master’s degree in religion from the Yale Divinity School and a doctorate in jurisprudence from Yale Law School. In 1996, after having worked in South Africa for a nonprofit organization concerned with caring for the homeless, he became legal counsel to a Delaware textile manufacturer. Also, that year he married Annie Lingenfelter and the couple would have three children.

Coons’ political career began in 2000 when he was elected to the New Castle County Council in Delaware. He became county executive in 2005 and served for five years before running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. In Washington, Coons developed a reputation as a moderate Democrat.


“Chris is a very smart guy and an extremely hard worker,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader, said in 2014. “He’s served on a number of key committees and has led by example. I’d say he’s one of the most respected senators in Washington, and his only drawback is that he’s a Democrat.”


When Biden was elected president in 2020, Coons was considered a favorite to be named Secretary of State. “I know he wanted the job, and he’d have been very good at it, but I told Chris that I needed him in the Senate,” Biden said.

Always a loyal soldier, Coons would continue to distinguish himself in various leadership roles in the Senate. He also became a strong voice overseas, advising Biden on some of the most troubled spots across the globe.

At times, Coons even showed his sense of humor. Because he bears a striking resemblance to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Coons is often mistaken for Scholz whenever he visits Germany. In February of this year, Coons and Scholz posed for a selfie with the caption “Wer ist wer,” which is German for “who is who?”


Coons’ political future seems most promising. He’s been rumored as a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as for key positions in Biden’s cabinet. As his reputation grows, leading Democrats have hinted that Coons might eventually gain consideration as a candidate for the White House.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Deke became America’s president. It’s happened five times before.

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