Why Do Parties Field Flawed Candidates?

One of the trickiest parts of the battle for control of Congress is that a political party sometimes doesn’t field its strongest potential candidate for a particular House or Senate race and thus misses a golden opportunity to gain a seat.

I’ve seen this firsthand over the past 30 years that I have been involved in national politics. Sometimes the Republicans will nominate a far right-winger in a moderate Congressional district. Or the Democratic Party will nominate a strong liberal to run in a conservative district.

And then there are those times when one party or the other chooses a flawed candidate even when party leaders try to secure the nomination for someone with a better chance of winning the general election.

The most recent example of this occurred in Florida when Republican Party leaders desperately tried to find someone credible to oppose Congresswoman Katherine Harris in the primary for Bill Nelson’s Senate seat. They failed, and so a deeply flawed Harris will be their standard bearer in November.

National Democratic Party leaders right now are trying to shore up the campaign of former Secretary of the Navy and military hero Jim Webb in the Virginia Democratic Primary for the right to face Sen. George Allen in the Fall. Webb has a terrific background but he still could lose the Democratic nomination to Harris Miller who has a long record of Democratic Party involvement in Virginia.

A classic example of the flawed candidate scenario is playing out in the 17th Congressional District in Texas. The District, which includes the Crawford ranch of President Bush, is currently represented by longtime Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards of Waco.

Edwards, who has a strong pro-defense record, is a perennial target of Republicans who earlier this year thought they had found the ideal candidate to oppose him – Van Taylor, an independently wealthy Iraqi war vet.

Taylor won a contested Republican primary in March, beating former Republican Congressional aide, Tucker Anderson, in a hotly contested race by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

However, it now appears that Taylor is deeply flawed. Some people in Texas are starting to refer to him as Exxon Taylor.

At a time when voter anguish is high because of rising gas prices, Taylor’s financial disclosure statement has revealed that Taylor, an oil company heir whose full name is Nicholas Van Campen Taylor, owns at least 178,571 shares of Exxon stock and received between $100,001 and $1,000,000 worth of Exxon dividends during the first half of 2005.

His disclosure statement values his Exxon holdings at between $5 million and $25 million. Congressional financial disclosure statements list assets and income by ranges, so it is impossible to determine Taylor’s exact holdings in Exxon and he is refusing to disclose the amount.

Rex W. Tillerson, the new CEO of Exxon, was interviewed recently by Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” program. Lauer asked Tillerson whether Exxon, which has been racking up billions of dollars in record earnings, would consider cutting gas prices this summer to give consumers some relief. Tillerson said Exxon would not cut prices because his duty was to maximize value for his shareholders…shareholders like Van Taylor.

Congressional candidate Van Taylor will certainly be asked during the campaign whose side he will be on in this highly charged matter. Will he be looking out for his $100,001 to $1,000,000 a year in stock dividends from Exxon or will he be looking out for the little guy filling up his pickup in central Texas?

Democrats will hammer Taylor on the question of whether any votes he would cast as a Member of Congress would be independent from his own very substantial personal interest. Even Karl Rove may not be able to get Exxon Taylor out of this pickle.

By the way, it doesn’t take long to figure out Taylor’s minimum Exxon share holdings (which, of course could be much higher). You start with his minimum total dividend earnings for the first six months of 2005 ($100,001) and divide that by the per share dividend paid by Exxon for the first half of the year ($.56 a share).

The result of the simple math problem is 178,571 (the minimum amount of shares he holds). The current Exxon share price has been hovering around $64. If you multiply $64 times 178,571 shares, Taylor’s current Exxon stock holdings are worth at least $11,428,544.

Since the time Republican Party leaders started touting Taylor’s candidacy, gasoline has now climbed to an average of over $3.00 a gallon. Maybe party leaders didn’t realize that their candidate is earning between $100,001 and $1,000,000 a year in Exxon dividends. Maybe they simply aren’t very good at math. Maybe they didn’t fully appreciate the fact that the Republican Party already has enough Texas oilmen in public office.

By the way, candidate Taylor also owns more than one million dollars in drug company stock (Eli Lilly, Johnson and Johnson and Wyeth). Did anyone say “prescription drugs?”

That nice young man who used to work for a Republican Congressman who lost the Republican primary to Taylor must be looking pretty good to party leaders about now.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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