What’s in a Name? Sometimes Political Good Fortune

Candidates might benefit from sharing a name with incumbents

A Democrat in Texas tried to run for Rep. Ruben Hinojosa's open Texas seat using the same name. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A Democrat in Texas tried to run for Rep. Ruben Hinojosa's open Texas seat using the same name. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 2, 2016 at 1:33pm

Former Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan made news  with his last-minute decision to primary Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.  

If he wins, he could become the second Dan Sullivan in the Alaska delegation. Dan Sullivan, the state’s junior senator, was elected in 2014.  

Filing his paperwork at the state elections office minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline on Wednesday, Sullivan joked with reporters that he might repurpose the senator’s campaign signs.  

The former mayor could benefit from more than just campaign signs. Sharing a name with a sitting senator should give his candidacy a boost if voters confuse him for the incumbent.  

Sullivan is hardly the first candidate who would benefit or has tried to benefit from a conveniently shared name.   

Last weekend, Florida Rep. Alan Grayson married girlfriend Dena Minning , and Minning announced she’d take her husband’s last name. That’s significant because Minning is running for Grayson’s 9th District House seat.   

Grayson is running for the Democratic nomination for Senate. But when voters go to the polls, they’ll still see a Grayson for House, which could help to distinguish the new Mrs. Grayson from the rest of the crowded Democratic primary field.   

And in Texas earlier this year, a Democrat running in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Rubén Hinojosa  tried to get on the ballot using the name Rubén Ramirez Hinojosa .  

The congressman and other Democratic leaders in the state feared the confusion that would ensue if a candidate with the same name as the retiring incumbent were on the ballot.  

Party officials told the 33-year-old law student he had to go by Ruben Ramirez on the March primary ballot. They argued that he had not proven that he goes by the last name Hinojosa.   

The candidate argued that he uses Hinojosa, his mother’s name, interchangeably with Ramirez, his father’s name.   

But not being allowed on the ballot with the last name Hinojosa didn’t stop the candidate from using the Hinojosa name and the controversy over it in his own way: the campaign created a logo with his full name and “Hinojosa” crossed out.  

Ruben Ramirez came in fourth in the March 1 primary, earning 6 percent of the vote .   

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