Presidential candidates - beware of family ties that can become a bind
Published 30/10/2008 | 00:47
With so few days left before the end, it is all hands on deck as the principal candidates grasp for those last elusive votes. That means not just campaign staff but spouses, siblings, children and grandchildren are expected to get working too. Family can be a great help – unless of course they are not.
Ask John McCain, who knows very well how important close relatives can be to a campaign and how embarrassing they can be on occasion also. He goes nowhere without his second wife Cindy McCain. But he would rather go nowhere at all with his brother Joe McCain. That would be Joe, the brother who withdrew from all campaign activities last week after cursing at an emergency services phone operator.
Joe Biden is an expert on the relative advantages and otherwise of close relatives. He loves his son, Beau, Attorney General of Delaware and soldier in Iraq, whom he showed off on stage at the party convention in Denver in August. He also has a sister, Valerie Biden Owens, a professional political PR person who frequently appears on his behalf at Obama-Biden pep rallies across the country.
But Mr Biden is much less likely to advertise his social worker daughter, Ashley, who reportedly made a bit of a fool herself in Chicago nightclub years back and was arrested after standing in the way of a police officer. It was a small thing but why let the voters know?
More recent have been the troubles of second son, Hunter, who was asked to quit his career as a political lobbyist in Washington when his dad ran for the Democratic nomination last year. Hunter then messed up a purchase of a hedge fund company. Actually he went into that venture with Mr Biden's brother, James. James and Hunter are being sued by the person who was to have been their hedge fund partner. The less said about James the Brother (of Joe), the better, apparently.
These foibles are a shame because, for the most part, the kin of the candidates really do behave well. Look at McCain's daughter Meghan. She has been campaigning for her old man all over the map, most recently at a rally for campaign staff in Henderson, Nevada. And she uses her blog to promote her father's chances – and her chances of a White House bedroom. "I support my Dad through it all because I know this: my Dad will be unlike any other Republican president," Ms McCain gushed this week on her site, after acknowledging voting Republican may seem a tad counter-intuitive for a young person amid economic turmoil.
In fact, there are busloads of sibling surrogates working America for its votes for no recognition or reward whatsoever. Who was that egging on staff at the McCain Las Vegas HQ last Sunday morning? That was Chuck Heath Jr, Sarah Palin's brother.
Rather fantastically, missteps on the family ranch can even be turned to the advantage of the candidate concerned. While Ms Biden got into a little aggravation in a bar, Bristol Palin got herself a bun in the oven, when really she was much too young to do such a thing. But gosh-darn if her mother has not turned that little domestic drama into a boon.
More soberly, there is the example of Barack Obama and his grandmother, Marilyn Dunham. Mr Obama excused himself from the campaign trail a week ago to visit her bedside in Hawaii because of fears that a grave illness may take her away before America gets to decide if her grandkid should be president. Mr Obama's compassion is unlikely to do him harm next Tuesday.
Joe McCain's sins are puny. Driving across a bridge in Washington DC, he called 911 – the emergency services number – to find out why the traffic was so awful and used the "F word" when asked why he was calling about so trivial a matter. He has apologised and volunteered to stay far way from brother John's campaign.
Joe may have done more damage than he knows. A McCain losing his temper? Hmm, that sounds a tiny bit familiar, doesn't it?