Family ties can be a candidate’s blessing or curse

DONNA CASSATA
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ah, the family. They can be a candidate’s sounding board, worthy surrogates and an attractive image for a television ad.

Or they can be a massive headache to rival any uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner.

In Arkansas, former Sen. David Pryor and his wife, Barbara, campaign for son Mark, the incumbent Democratic senator, while onetime elected officials — Georgia’s Sam Nunn, Florida’s Bob Graham and Louisiana’s Moon Landrieu — are lending a hand to their daughters.

Gwen Graham is seeking a House seat in northern Florida, Michelle Nunn is running for the Senate and Mary Landrieu is pursuing a fourth Senate term. The presence of their fathers, whether in campaign ads or on the trail, is a reminder to older voters, crucial in low-turnout midterm elections, of the Southern Democrats of the past.

Family also can be about the future.

Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, who is looking to unseat Mark Pryor, frequently mentions that he and his wife, Anna, are expecting the couple’s first child, a boy, in April.

Those are the positives, but the family affair can have its pitfalls, creating problems for political hopefuls who suddenly have some explaining to do because of a spouse or relative.

In Nevada last week, seven members of Paul Laxalt’s family endorsed his rival for attorney general, Democrat Ross Miller, writing in a letter to the editor in the Las Vegas Sun that Miller was the “most qualified.”

In Oregon this month, the fiancee of Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber shockingly admitted that she was paid to illegally marry an immigrant in 1997. The sham marriage forced the governor to talk about how he was hurt rather than the issues.

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House Republican candidate and Iraq War veteran Paul Chabot couldn’t make the Immanuel Baptist Salt and Light Ministry forum with local and congressional candidates on Oct. 9 in Highland, California, so he sent his wife, Brenda.

Questioned whether the country was spending enough on defense, Brenda Chabot said no and then offered a testimonial about her husband, saying “he wouldn’t tell you this because he is pretty humble, but he actually wrote the strategy to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq in 2008 when the surge occurred.”

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus is largely credited with drawing up the strategy of dispatching more U.S. troops into Iraq that former President George W. Bush announced on Jan. 10, 2007.

Chabot, it turns out, was a military intelligence officer who wrote a paper in 2008 titled, “Theory to Strategy: How to Defeat al-Qaida in Iraq and around the Globe. A conceptual model to defeat terrorist and high-level criminal organizations.”

Asked about his wife’s comments, Paul Chabot said in an interview, “It’s not ‘the’ strategy, it was ‘a’ strategy, in fact there were many strategies if you will.”

He complained that “it’s a new low when they drag in a candidate’s spouse.”

Chabot faces Democrat Pete Aguilar, the mayor of Redlands, for the open seat.

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Georgia gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter has the most high-profile relative — his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter.

In his campaign against Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, the younger Carter has had to answer for several of his grandfather’s comments and positions.

The elder Carter criticized Israel and Hamas in Foreign Policy magazine this year. Carter wrote that “there is no humane or legal justification for the way the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting this war,” and the former president called the death of hundreds of Palestinian noncombatants a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Facing questions, Jason Carter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I believe that Israel has a right to defend itself, especially against Hamas’ terrorist actions.”

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In Iowa’s competitive Senate race, Republicans have made hay about chickens, specifically the dispute that Democratic candidate Bruce Braley and his wife, Carolyn, had with a neighbor over her chickens who wandered onto the couple’s vacation property.

The Braleys complained to the neighborhood association. The association’s board ruled that the chickens were pets that could be kept in the yard if they were fenced in.

Republican candidate Joni Ernst claimed that Bruce Braley had threatened to sue his neighbor over chickens. Braley and fact-checkers said not so.

Separately, Ernst had to answer questions about critical comments her husband, Gail, posted on his Facebook page, including calling former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a “hag” and joking about shooting a former spouse. The candidate told the Des Moines Register she was appalled by her husband’s comments, which were removed from his Facebook page.

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