All in the Family
It’s a Mixed Bag When Relatives Are on the Ballot Together
A political legacy may have foundered in Ohio’s 2nd district last week when Sen. Mike DeWine’s (R) son lost a special primary to succeed U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman in Congress.
But in Nevada and Maryland, potential candidates are hoping to use their family name and fundraising contacts to replace family members in Congress in 2006 — and hoping to benefit from appearing on the ballot at the same time as their better-known relatives.
With Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) preparing to run for governor of Nevada, his wife, former state Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, is running in a three-way GOP primary to replace him in the House.
Meanwhile, in Maryland, Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) is running to succeed retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), while his nephew, state Del. Jon Cardin (D), is hoping to succeed his uncle in the House.
Running for office with a famous last name brings distinct advantages, as Eddie Murphy’s character showed in the film, “The Distinguished Gentleman.” But running with a familiar name also carries potential pitfalls.
A New Day Dawns
With her interest in pushing organ transplants and crisis call centers, some may have expected Dawn Gibbons to jump at the chance to serve as the Silver State’s first lady and use the platform to promote her pet issues. But Dawn Gibbons knows safe Congressional seats rarely become open.
If she gets her wish, in January 2007, her husband will move into the governor’s mansion and she will take over his $1,000-per-month studio apartment at the Capitol Hill Suites.
It would not be the first time Dawn Gibbons has stepped into her husband’s shoes.
For four months in 1991, Gibbons replaced her husband in the state Assembly while he was flying reconnaissance missions in the Gulf War.
She was so nervous when she first stepped into the media spotlight that she made then-Gov. Bob Miller (D) do all the talking when they announced her husband’s temporary resignation. By the end of the session, however, she was hooked on politics.
Gibbons was elected to the Assembly in her own right in 1998 and served six years. With her son heading to the University of Nevada at Reno in the fall, the former state lawmaker from the “biggest little city in the world” said that she is ready to come to Washington, D.C.
“I’m lucky to be married to Jim Gibbons because he was raised by a mother who worked,” Dawn Gibbons said. “He has always supported me. I’m his equal. It’s not all about him.”
One of Jim Gibbons’ rivals for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination, Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, refuses to make an issue out of the dual bids for high office. The former businesswoman prefers to focus on her qualifications to be the state’s CEO.
Hunt noted that legacies are nothing new in Nevada politics: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D) son, after all, chairs the Clark County Commission.
But Dawn Gibbons’ two Republican rivals for the House are not giving her a free pass.
First Lady From a Distance?
State Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) thinks the state will be “shortchanged” without a full-time first lady.
“She would make a gracious first lady,” Angle said. “Where is she going to be if she goes to Congress?”
Secretary of State Dean Heller’s campaign spokesman, Mike Slanker, considers Jim Gibbons the “prohibitive favorite” to be the state’s next governor. But he does not think Nevada’s 2nd Congressional district is “ready to elect a husband and a wife to two powerful political seats.”
“I think early polling has proved that case,” Slanker added, referring to an independent Strategic Solutions poll of 325 Republicans conducted April 27 that showed Heller with 28 percent, Gibbons backed by 16 percent, Angle with 8 percent and state Controller Kathy Augustine with 3 percent.
Whatever grousing there is about the Gibbons team appearing on the ballot at the same time, Jon Ralston, a Las Vegas Sun columnist and Nevada political expert, thinks the bigger threat facing Jim Gibbons is the possible entrance into the race by Jim Rogers, a media mogul and chancellor of the state’s university system.
“He’s supported by the governor, he has lots of business contacts, and he’s half — and maybe a full — billionaire,” Ralston said.
For her part, Dawn Gibbons is unfazed by the attacks. Like another famous political spouse, she is on a “listening tour,” traveling the sprawling 2nd district, which takes in everything in Nevada outside of Las Vegas — almost 110,000 square miles.
She’s even lopped off a pair of cow testicles to prove her bona fides in Nevada’s famed cowboy country.
She has also seized on her husband’s connections.
On April 13, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and the National Mining Association sponsored a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Dawn Gibbons that raised close to $20,000. Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) is hosting a D.C. fundraiser on June 29.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), whose wife serves in Virginia’s state Senate, has contributed $5,000 from his political action committee.
Serving in Congress with Jim Gibbons, however, does not automatically translate into support for his wife.
Ex-Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said he remembers Jim Gibbons as a tax-cutting conservative in the House.
When it came time for the Club for Growth to endorse in the primary, however, the anti-tax group that Toomey now heads ditched Dawn Gibbons, who helped end a budget stalemate by voting to raise taxes in 2003, in favor of Angle, who refused to compromise.
“She voted for the largest tax increase in history,” Ralston said. “She broke with a well-publicized band of 15 Republicans. … In a Republican primary, that could be a significant issue.”
The Dawn Gibbons campaign argues that she went along with the tax increase because of the threat posed to the state’s schools.
“She stood up for our kids and she does not apologize for that,” said Jim Denton, Dawn Gibbons’ campaign consultant.
Jim Gibbons, who spoke out against raising taxes in 2003, is maintaining his distance from his wife’s vote.
“It shouldn’t surprise anybody that there are husbands and wives that don’t agree on everything,” Robert Uithoven, Jim Gibbon’s spokesman, said.
Not Ready to Cry ‘Uncle’
Jon Cardin told Roll Call in March that he would not run for the House if it hurt his uncle’s Senate race. Since then, he has kept a low public profile, prompting more than one of his opponents to think he was not serious about the race.
But Cardin said that he won’t make a decision until the end of the summer. As he goes through his self-described “due diligence” process, he is buoyed by polling data that his uncle has shared with him that shows, in the nephew’s words, that he stands a “very, very good chance” of being elected. He is undaunted by a crowded field, saying that the more candidates who get into the race, “the better.”
The younger Cardin knows much of his political standing stems from name recognition and his ability to raise money. But he is hoping voters in Maryland’s 3rd district get to know him as someone who is “relatively intelligent, has a head on his shoulders, and hasn’t shown himself as an overly-off-the-wall, left-wing liberal.”
Independent political analysts think the 35-year-old legislator, who works as a criminal defense attorney when the House of Delegates is not in session, would not be a serious contender if not for his family name.
Barry Rascovar, a columnist for the Maryland-based Gazette newspapers, thinks the younger Cardin’s opponents will “rightly” claim that the first-term state lawmaker is still “wet behind the ears.”
Despite Cardin’s relative lack of experience, Rascovar thinks the name — and access to campaign funds — could possibly be enough to propel Jon Cardin to victory in the Baltimore and Annapolis-based district that his uncle has represented since 1987.
“I’m sure his bumper stickers will just say ‘Cardin’—‘Cardin for Congress,’’’ Rascovar said. “He would be foolish to do anything else.”
A potential rival in the House race, state Sen. Paula Hollinger (D), who has served in the Legislature since 1978, thinks the first-term lawmaker will provoke a “backlash” if he gets into the House race. For that reason, she thinks Jon Cardin will ultimately decide not to jump into the fray.
“He has little experience — almost no experience. You know, anybody can trade on a name,” said Hollinger, who plans to make an announcement regarding her candidacy in Baltimore during the week of July 13.
Hollinger, who backs Benjamin Cardin in the Senate race, thinks the nephew’s potential run could have “tremendous” consequences in the race to succeed Sarbanes.
“We come out of the same district,” Hollinger said, referring to herself and the Congressman. “Many of the people who support me would support him. I think there would be a lot of resentment there.”
More Maryland Legacies
The Cardins are not the only Maryland political family hoping to spread its influence in 2006. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (D) is running for governor at the same time that his father-in-law, J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D), is running for re-election as attorney general.
If Jon Cardin throws his hat in the House race, he will face a transplanted political legacy in the Democratic primary. Peter Beilenson, who just resigned as Baltimore’s health commissioner, announced Wednesday that he is hoping to follow his father, ex-Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Calif.), to Congress.
Other Democrats considering the race are state Del. Neil Quinter, lawyer Kevin O’Keefe and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens.
If Jon Cardin succeeds his uncle, it would not be a family first. When Benjamin Cardin first was elected to the state House in 1966 at the tender age of 23, he inherited the seat from his uncle.
As Benjamin Cardin said when his nephew was sworn in to the House of Delegates in 2003, “The next generation’s taking over.”