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Ben Quayle not the right choice for GOP in AZ CD3

With attention focused on Arizona’s SB 1070 and on Democrats’ troubles this election cycle, an important and fascinating Republican primary in Arizona – where early voting has already begun – is playing out largely under the radar. But its outcome on August 24th will say a lot about the health and future of the GOP.

The race is for the open seat being vacated by conservative Republican John Shadegg in Arizona’s Third Congressional District, which includes north Phoenix and Paradise Valley. Shadegg has held the seat in this strongly GOP district (McCain by 14% in 2008, Bush by 17% in 2004) since his election in 1994; prior to that it was held by another leading conservative, Senator Jon Kyl.

Ten candidates are competing in the GOP primary: three have broken through to form a perceived first tier. But only one has a famous dad and has raised more than a million dollars for the race: Ben Quayle.

Ben is a 33 year-old attorney who has a resume like most every person who went to good schools and has less than 10 years of working experience: he could be a future star, or he could be a lightweight. But his career to date has been undistinguished (and even nonexistent with respect to public policy and politics) save for who his father is. (If you doubt this, read his unintentionally funny campaign bio. Laugh-out-loud sample: in his brief role as a paper-pushing junior associate in the real estate department of an Arizona law firm, “Quayle learned the importance of individual property rights.”)

Ben recently planted himself back in Arizona (the NY Times reports he has never voted in a local election in the state) and was virtually unknown in the state’s GOP circles. But he’s not unknown anymore. His cash-rich campaign is quickly making him known to the District’s primary voters (though the as-yet childless candidate has to borrow other people’s kids for his campaign brochures).

So what’s the problem? He says he’s a conservative, his dad is a conservative, and he’s certainly not the first child to capitalize on his pop’s name and connections to advance in this world. What could be the harm in Ben Quayle being the GOP nominee this fall?

For starters, safe GOP Districts should be used to cultivate national conservative leaders. Both Kyl and Shadegg were distinguished conservative rising stars at the time they each won their highly-contested primaries for that district. They have both gone on to great public service in advancing conservative principles, most notably Kyl on national security issues and Shadegg on health care. There is no evidence in Ben’s career to date that he is on track to be a future Kyl or Shadegg. We simply do not have enough conservative stars in Washington to risk “wasting” a seat.

Second, safe Republican districts should not distract a scintilla of energy or focus from the GOP’s push to win Democratic seats and retake the House. If Ben is the nominee, alone among the top tier of GOP candidates in that district, the race suddenly would be injected with some level of risk in what would otherwise be a GOP lock this fall, given the mood of the nation and the electoral profile of the district’s voters.

Everyone knows Ben is only in the top tier in this race because his father was Vice President and has raised him a million dollars. (Dad, not Ben, even announced Ben’s candidacy on Fox News!) In fact, two-thirds of Ben’s campaign funds have come from outside Arizona, according to the Democrat running for the seat. This makes Dan Quayle a legitimate issue in this race, and many GOP voters, not to mention the 59% of the district’s registered voters who are not registered Republicans, may not like some of what Dan Quayle has been up to since Ames, Iowa’s caucus-goers ended his political career in 1999 with an eighth place finish there.

Does the GOP really want to be talking about Dan Quayle’s role in the Chrysler bailout? Chrysler was owned by private equity company Cerberus Capital Management when President Barack Obama gave it more than $5 billion in taxpayer funds. Dan Quayle is Chairman of Cerberus Global Investments. Did he lobby for the bailout or profit it from it? Did Ben Quayle’s donors? It’s hard to tell, given the notorious secrecy of Cerberus.

Dan Quayle is also on the board of directors of some companies controlled by Cerberus. One of them is a Japanese bank that had more than $100 million in exposure to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme and hundreds of millions in unsecured credit to now-defunct Lehman Brothers (the bank was the leading lender to Lehman Brothers Japan). He is also on the board of a government contractor involved in the “ice-gate” scandal after Hurricane Katrina, when the government purchased millions of pounds of excess ice and ended up storing it as far away as Maine. There are also Cerberus investments around the world, each one a potential campaign landmine.

The American people had Dan Quayle fatigue after years of gaffes and (often unfair) media ridicule. Will voters in November really want to return to those days?

And the Democratic candidate has no primary opponent and has already raised more than $750,000. (Plus he’s a married father of five with cute kids and a nice story to tell to try to distract people from the fact that he would be a rubber stamp for Obama and Pelosi.) So by election day, every voter in the district will know all about how the unpopular bailout helped Ben Quayle’s family, about every Cerberus deal with nondemocratic foreign governments, its companies that outsource U.S. jobs, etc.

It is also important to note that while this district is currently strongly GOP, Arizona has an unusual system for reapportionment that puts it not in the hands of the (likely to remain) GOP Governor and Legislature, but in the hands of a bipartisan mix of appointed commissioners who will redraw the congressional district lines in 2011. This means that the District Three winner in 2010 could face a much more competitive district in 2012. The language of the voter-passed initiative that dictates the process requires, among its statutory requirements, that “to the extent practicable, competitive districts should be favored….” Would any Republican looking at his record today want Ben Quayle as their nominee in a potential swing district in 2012?

Finally, the Republican party has a wonderful opportunity this year to begin redefining its brand with the American people. Polls show Americans have rejected Obama and the Democrats but are still leery of the GOP. Does letting an unpopular former one-term Vice President buy his son a Congressional seat really send the American people an appropriate message about the “new” GOP?

Someday, Ben’s professional accomplishments may demonstrate his readiness, but there are skilled, experienced, conservative Republicans running in the Arizona CD3 primary. Let’s hope one of them wins on August 24. To paraphrase Dan Quayle, speaking about then-Governor George W. Bush during Quayle’s short-lived campaign for the White House in 1999: ”We don’t need another [lawmaker] who needs on-the-job training…. The [office] is not to be inherited.”

The writer is a Maryland-based at home dad. Many years ago, he worked for Arizona Republicans Jon Kyl, Matt Salmon and Jeff Flake. Prior to that, he practiced law in Arizona. He made a donation this week to one of Ben Quayle’s primary opponents.

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