Skip to content

When Siblings Share the Ballot

One day before the close of the first quarter of the latest fundraising period, the Salazar brothers of Colorado held a small-dollar event in Denver to benefit their respective campaigns for Senate and House.

Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar is the odds-on Democratic nominee for the state’s open Senate seat, while state Rep. John Salazar is the leading Democratic candidate for the 3rd district House seat being vacated by Rep. Scott McInnis (R).

The fundraiser, which netted the two campaigns $12,000 total, was the first in what is likely a series of events designed to capitalize on the two brothers appearing on the ballot at the same time.

“I am sure we will do more,” said Ken Salazar’s campaign chairman, Mike Stratton.

While Democrats are touting the possible benefits — both financially and organizationally — of the Salazars on the ticket, Republicans are floating the idea that voters may not feel comfortable electing two candidates from the same family.

“There may be one Salazar too many,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.).

The Colorado Salazars are the most high-profile example of siblings seeking office simultaneously this cycle, but they are not the only ones.

In Utah, Rep. Jim Matheson (D) is again being heavily targeted in his massive southern and eastern Utah 2nd district even as his brother, Scott, is running for governor in the Beehive State.

And in Missouri, state Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) is competing for the 3rd district House seat while his sister, Robin, is the Democratic nominee for Missouri secretary of state.

The Matheson and Carnahan names are both well-known in their respective states.

Scott Matheson, the late father of both Jim and Scott Jr., served as Utah’s governor from 1976 to 1984.

Mel Carnahan, Russ and Robin’s father, was the Show Me State’s governor from 1992 until 2000, while their mother was a U.S. Senator from 2000 to 2002.

The situation in Colorado is likely to draw the most national attention due to the Salazars’ Hispanic heritage.

If Ken Salazar is elected to the Senate, he will be the first Hispanic to serve in that body in 27 years; Colorado has never elected a Hispanic House Member.

Jeff Bridges, a spokesman for John Salazar’s campaign, predicted that the “Hispanic turnout [will] rival Proposition 187.”

Proposition 187 was a 1994 ballot initiative in California, backed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson (R), which sought to cut off government benefits for illegal immigrants.

Hispanic turnout in California jumped 40 percent between the 1992 and 1994 elections although Proposition 187 did pass. It was later invalidated by the courts.

Stratton said that having two Hispanics on the ballot with the same last name will be too good an opportunity for Republicans to resist.

“Republicans in Colorado have never been afraid to play the race card,” said Stratton. “We will definitely hear that. In the long run it isn’t going to make much difference one way or another.”

One House Democratic leadership aide argued that given Ken Salazar’s popularity in the state, his presence at the top of the ticket will do nothing but good for his brother, who is less well known, in a House district with a 21.5 percent Hispanic population.

“It is enormously helpful,” the source said. Ken “is very popular and the Salazar name is very popular.”

Even Democrats, however, are more skeptical about the potential impact of Scott Matheson’s gubernatorial ambitions on his brother’s re-election campaign.

Jim Matheson was first elected in 2000 by defeating a Republican businessman who had upended then-Rep. Merrill Cook (R) in a divisive primary. He narrowly won re-election last cycle despite the district’s increasingly Republican tilt.

Former state Representative and 2002 nominee John Swallow (R) is Matheson’s likely opponent, although two other Republicans are also seeking the nomination.

Scott Matheson Jr. is a much less well-known commodity as he has not sought elected office before this race. He is the dean of the University of Utah Law School.

He is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, while nine Republicans are vying for their party’s nod in the governor’s race.

Jim Matheson was philosophical when asked about the potential impact his brother’s candidacy might have on his own re-election race.

“My candidacy and my brother’s candidacy represent opportunities for a different voice and a common set of values in terms of pushing Utah forward,” he said.

Some national Democrats voiced concern that Scott Matheson’s candidacy could negatively impact his brother, however.

“His brother doesn’t have the right profile,” said a House Democratic leadership aide of Scott Matheson. “His profile isn’t as good as [Jim’s]. He is more liberal.”

The situation in Missouri is slightly different, as the real competition for the strongly Democratic 3rd district seat will be in the primary while the action in the secretary of state’s race won’t come until November.

Russ Carnahan and state Sen. Steve Stoll (D) are considered the frontrunners for the St. Louis County-based seat of retiring Rep. Richard Gephardt (D). The primary is set for Aug. 3.

Robin Carnahan, an attorney, is unopposed for her party’s nomination but faces a stiff fight against state Rep. Catherine Hanaway (R) in November.

“We have separate campaign committees and the nature and timing of our races is different,” said Russ Carnahan.

As for the Carnahan name being on the ballot for both a statewide and federal office, Russ Carnahan argued it is “clearly a net positive.”

He did acknowledge that “having a familiar last name can be a two-edged sword.

“Sometimes you attract not only the supporters and friends but you also inherit the opponents from prior campaigns,” Carnahan said.

Russ and Robin are the third generation of politically active Carnahans. Their grandfather, A.S.J. Carnahan (D), served in Congress from 1944 to 1958 and was ambassador to Sierra Leone under President John F. Kennedy.

With the bids of Russ and Robin, four Carnahans have sought office in the past three cycles.

After eight years as governor, Mel Carnahan was running against then-Sen. John Ashcroft (R) in 2000 when he was killed in a plane crash just two weeks before the election.

His name remained on the ballot, however, and he defeated Ashcroft after the interim governor, a Democrat, intimated that he would appoint Jean Carnahan, his widow, Senator if Mel was to win posthumously.

After two years as a Senator, Jean Carnahan was defeated for a full term by former Rep. Jim Talent (R).

“There is a lot of good will toward my family’s public service,” said Russ Carnahan. “I am very proud of that.”

Recent Stories

Latest Biden, Harris pitch to Black voters slams Trump in crucial battleground

House Ethics forms subpanel to probe Cuellar’s alleged bribery scheme

Alito rejects requests to step aside from Trump-related cases

Capitol Ink | Aerial assault

Auto parts suppliers fear a crash with shift to EVs

As summer interns descend on the Hill, this resource office is ready