Some can­di­dates cash in on money prob­lems

Far from con­demn­ing missed pay­ments and fore­closed prop­er­ties, vot­ers sym­pa­thize.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Richard Faus­set re­port­ing from ma­ri­etta, ga.

Ge­or­gia voter Bob­bie Huff has heard about the failed busi­ness ven­ture and the big loan that has Nathan Deal, the state’s gu­ber­na­to­rial front-run­ner, on the hook for more than $2 mil­lion.

She’s also heard that Deal, an 18-year vet­eran of Congress, will prob­a­bly have to sell his house and liq­ui­date other as­sets to cover the debt.

But Huff can’t bring her­self to ren­der a stern judg­ment on the man just be­cause he’s suf­fered in the re­ces­sion. Af­ter all, she said, who hasn’t?

“It just shows that ev­ery­body’s in the same boat these days, whether you’re a po­lit­i­cal per­son or an ev­ery­day per­son,” the 59-year-old said last week in the old town square of this con­ser­va­tive At­lanta sub­urb. “I think on the whole he’s a good man who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In con­trast to sev­eral high-pro­file and well-heeled can­di­dates in Cal­i­for­nia, a num­ber of oth­ers around the coun­try are fac­ing per­sonal fi­nan­cial trou­bles. Their money prob­lems are more than ab­strac­tions to be ad­dressed with pol­icy pre­scrip­tions and high­fly­ing rhetoric — they are per­sonal dra­mas that fig­ure into their cam­paign sto­ries.

In some cases, ad­ver­saries point to these prob­lems as ex­am­ples of poor judg­ment and high­light per­ceived eth­i­cal lapses. But ex-

perts say they would be wise to tread care­fully in a time of wide­spread pain, be­cause voter sym­pa­thy may weigh into elec­tion day de­ci­sions.

Fore­clo­sure and real-es­tate trou­bles have trailed Chris­tine O’Don­nell and Marco Rubio, the Repub­li­can Se­nate nom­i­nees from Delaware and Florida, re­spec­tively; as well as Rep. Laura Richardson, a Demo­crat from Long Beach. In Illi­nois, the Demo­crat run­ning to fill Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­mer Se­nate seat, Alexi Gian­nou­lias, saw his fam­ily bank fail in April.

Fi­nan­cial hard­ships have hit small-scale races as well: This sum­mer, three of seven can­di­dates vy­ing for city coun­cil seats in Mi­ami Gar­dens, Fla., were deal­ing with a fore­clo­sure or bank­ruptcy.

“For the most part, the res­i­dents un­der­stood,” said

‘Hun­dreds of thou­sands of vot­ers are in the same sit­u­a­tion, and you’re sort of im­pugn­ing their judg­ment.’ — An­gelo Fuster, po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor, on at­tack­ing op­pos­ing can­di­dates over fi­nan­cial trou­bles

Felicia Robin­son, who won her seat de­spite hav­ing lost an in­vest­ment prop­erty to fore­clo­sure. “Be­cause a lot of them are in the same sit­u­a­tion — or in worse sit­u­a­tions.”

An­gelo Fuster, a vet­eran po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor in At­lanta, re­it­er­ated the point, say­ing it could be un­wise to at­tack such can­di­dates. “Hun­dreds of thou­sands of vot­ers are in the same sit­u­a­tion, and you’re sort of im­pugn­ing their judg­ment and their smarts by do­ing that,” he said.

Crit­i­ciz­ing an op­po­nent’s fi­nan­cial fail­ings has long been fair game in pol­i­tics. But the com­pas­sion of the elec­torate also has some his­tor­i­cal prece­dent, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing hard times. Dur­ing the fi­nan­cial panic of 1893, Wil­liam McKin­ley, then gover­nor of Ohio, co-signed a large loan to help a friend with a busi­ness that even­tu­ally failed.

When the pub­lic learned of it, McKin­ley feared his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was over. In­stead, ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian H. Wayne Mor­gan, Amer­i­cans re­acted with “a wave of sym­pa­thetic un­der­stand­ing,” send­ing in nick­els and dol­lars to cover the debt. Three years later, McKin­ley was elected pres­i­dent.

In this midterm cy­cle, some can­di­dates with money trou­bles have sought to turn their sit­u­a­tion into an ad­van­tage.

“I think the fact that I have strug­gled fi­nan­cially is what makes me so sym­pa­thetic,” O’Don­nell said in March to the Wilm­ing­ton News Jour­nal, which re­ported that she faced an In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice lien for un­paid taxes and had sold her home to a staff mem­ber to avoid a sher­iff ’s sale.

Deal’s fi­nan­cial prob­lems first came to light on Sept. 15 in the At­lanta Jour­nal Con­sti­tu­tion, and quickly be­came the fo­cal point of the state’s cam­paign cov­er­age and chat­ter.

The can­di­date said he cosigned $2 mil­lion-plus in loans to help his daugh­ter and son-in-law start an out­door re­tail shop that even­tu­ally fell vic­tim to the weak econ­omy — a sign of his fam­ily val­ues, he ar­gued, not of profli­gacy.

“This was an in­vest­ment that was made on be­half of a child, and I think when you try to help your chil­dren, that’s prob­a­bly al­ways the right thing to do,” he said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters.

His predica­ment, he said, was “an il­lus­tra­tion of the fact that you need a gover­nor who un­der­stands the pain that Ge­or­gians are fac­ing.”

Since the rev­e­la­tions, a Ras­mussen poll showed Deal, a Repub­li­can, with a slight lead over his op­po­nent, for­mer Gov. Roy Barnes.

Some po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants have fig­ured the po­ten­tial sym­pa­thy fac­tor into cam­paign strat­egy.

In Florida this year, West Palm Beach po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Rick As­nani and his firm, Cor­ner­stone So­lu­tions, were work­ing for Pete Bran­den­burg, a Florida state­house can­di­date, when they learned that Bran­den­burg’s op­po­nent was hav­ing fi­nan­cial prob­lems typ­i­cal of many Florid­i­ans. The op­po­nent, Jeff Cle­mens, said in an in­ter­view that he missed two house pay­ments in 2009.

Four or five years ago, As­nani said, he would have told his team to go on the at­tack. This year, they backed off.

His client even­tu­ally lost to Cle­mens in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, but As­nani still thinks he made the right de­ci­sion.

“We just didn’t think it was go­ing to be an is­sue that vot­ers cared about,” he said.

A num­ber of races have been marked by a sim­i­lar re­straint. In Illi­nois’ 8th Con­gres­sional District, in­cum­bent Demo­crat Melissa Bean has so far re­frained from at­tack­ing op­po­nent Joe Walsh over a 2008 fore­clo­sure. In Washington, State Rep. Larry Seaquist hasn’t fo­cused on a fore­clo­sure suf­fered by his home­builder op­po­nent.

“I frankly don’t think there’s a lot of mileage to be gained in that,” Seaquist said.

Fi­nan­cial prob­lems can still be cause for an at­tack, how­ever, if they speak to what As­nani calls “char­ac­ter is­sues.”

In the Illi­nois Se­nate race, Gian­nou­lias’ op­po­nent, state Rep. Mark Kirk, ac­cused Gian­nou­lias, the state trea­surer, of mak­ing “risky loans to con­victed mob­sters” at the failed fam­ily banks, an as­ser­tion the group found to be largely er­ro­neous.

In the Cal­i­for­nia House race, Richardson’s op­po­nent, Repub­li­can Star Parker, ac­cuses Richardson of loan­ing her cam­paign $177,000 while de­fault­ing on mort­gage pay­ments. Richardson’s cam­paign did not re­turn calls seek­ing com­ment.

Rubio, the GOP’s Se­nate can­di­date in Florida, is coowner of a Tal­la­has­see house for which the pay­ments were delin­quent for a time. In a re­cent ad, Char­lie Crist, his in­de­pen­dent op­po­nent, points to re­ports that Rubio used a Repub­li­can Party credit card for per­sonal ex­penses. Rubio has said he re­paid the party for any per­sonal charges.

In Ge­or­gia, Roy Barnes has not fo­cused on the $2mil­lion loan on be­half of Nathan Deal’s daugh­ter. In­stead, he has crit­i­cized Deal for ini­tially fail­ing to re­port a sep­a­rate $2.85-mil­lion busi­ness loan as well as for Deal’s res­ig­na­tion from Congress in March, which al­lowed him to avoid a House ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

On the square in Ma­ri­etta, Bob­bie Huff’s friend Anne Fraser, 72, said she sym­pa­thized with Deal for try­ing to help his fam­ily. But it was the lapse in re­port­ing the busi­ness loan that had her wor­ried — and think­ing about vot­ing for some­one else.

“There may be more debt,” she said, “or more coverup of what’s go­ing on.”

ALEXI GIAN­NOU­LIAS The fail­ure of the Illi­nois Demo­crat’s fam­ily bank made him a tar­get for his cam­paign op­po­nent. LAURA RICHARDSON The Long Beach Demo­crat has been dogged by mort­gage is­sues.

MARCO RUBIO The Florida Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date owns a house for which pay­ments were delin­quent.

CHRIS­TINE O’DON­NELL The Delaware Repub­li­can faced an IRS lien for un­paid taxes.

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