James Woods (D) has started his bid to be the first atheist elected to Congress. He is from Arizona and is blind. On his website, he describes himself as free from "ideology, revelation, or religion." To date, no open atheists have ever been elected to Congress.
Woods hopes to stand for "people who are traditionally cut out of the political process feel heard." If elected, along with being an atheist, he would be the first completely blind member of Congress in almost 100 years. Woods is an active member of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix and said "In the U.S., we tend to equate faith with goodness. We make faith really visible part of public life. People who grew up in religious communities often haven't been exposed to nontheists, and there can be a lack of understanding of atheist ethics…I believe in human ingenuity – we can solve problems to improve our lives and the lives of people around us. You don't need religion for that."
Woods is looking to beat out incumbent Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) in Arizona's 5th district. This area is dominated by Republicans and Salmon won in 2012 with 67% of the vote. A Gallup poll in February showed atheists to be the most unelectable group in the United States.
Woods has a long road ahead of him but he is used to overcoming struggles. At the age of 26, he lost his eyesight after having a life-threatening staph infection. He said "I almost died. About a month before my 27th birthday, I was in the hospital fighting for my life and my vision started going. I noticed it getting dim on Monday and I woke up completely blind on Friday. I've never seen since."
No candidate has ever openly run as an atheist. The last atheist who was in Congress was former Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). He did not come out as an atheist until 30 years after he was elected. He lost his reelection in 2012.