The bookshelves flanking Rep. Andre Carson's desk haven't been filled. His office walls are mostly bare. Some of his aides are on loan from other lawmakers.
That's not surprising, considering Carson had one day between winning the March 11 special election to fill the remaining term of his grandmother, Julia Carson, and casting his first vote.
And while he's been setting up his congressional and district offices, learning the legislative ropes, and figuring out the quickest way to get from his fourth-floor office in one of the three House office buildings to the underground train that whisks him to the House floor, Carson has also had to prepare for the May 6 primary in Indianapolis.
He faces seven Democratic opponents next Tuesday and then must win the Nov. 3 general election if he wants to unpack his boxes for more than this year.
"It's certainly a balancing act," Carson, 33, said at the end of a busy day that included hours of committee work on a housing bill interrupted by floor votes. "A good representative must be an advocate as well as a student, learning the issues, being able to articulate the district's concerns in D.C. and being able to translate and distill information and articulate what's going on back home."
Carson, the second-youngest member of the House, is getting plenty of help. The campaign arm of House Democrats, which spent more than $250,000 to help him win the special election, is helping him raise money for the primary. His chief of staff and press secretary are on loan from Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the majority whip.
Carson regularly gets encouragement and advice from the head of the Congressional Black Caucus and the head of the Democratic Caucus. He landed a significant committee assignment. And like other Democrats who are new to this Congress, he's already had legislation pass the House.
"(House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi from day one made it clear that our new members were going to be treated as full legislative members, that they were going to be able to take leadership roles on legislation," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Carson successfully amended the House version of a bill to renew and expand world HIV/AIDS programs to allow African universities to work with medical experts at U.S. institutions, including historically black schools. (MORE)