Chris Heinz Works to Get Stepdad Elected
BEAVER, Pa. – Chris Heinz (search) works the bar, pouring a Diet Pepsi for other house guests as well as for himself.
"Singles are fine," Heinz jokes as he solicits tips. "Tens are better."
The heir to the Heinz food fortune doesn't need the cash. True, he hasn't earned a paycheck since quitting his job at a private equity firm in New York City to work on the Democratic presidential campaign of his stepfather, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search). But many people who meet the engaging 31-year-old hope his next job will be a political one.
"I really have no plans after November second," Heinz says during a campaign party at a supporter's home. "If I could be half as successful as my dad and stepdad, I would be a happy guy."
Everywhere Heinz goes, what he might do after the election generates buzz — especially in western Pennsylvania where the Heinz name is as much a part of the region's history as steel mills and pierogies.
His father, Sen. John Heinz III, might have run for president had he not died in a 1991 plane crash. Now Chris Heinz appears on campuses, at Miami hotspots, and at house parties like this one to raise money for Kerry, who married his mother, Teresa Heinz, in 1995.
Heinz is the youngest of John and Teresa Heinz's three children. His brother Andre, 34, is an environmental consultant who spends most of his time in Europe. Another brother, John Heinz IV, 37, operates an alternative school for teenagers in Pennsylvania. Of the Heinz children, Chris is closest to Kerry.
A Yale graduate with a master's degree in business administration from Harvard, Heinz draws comparisons in looks and lineage to John F. Kennedy Jr. He also shows up on gossip pages for dating Hollywood actresses. People magazine put him on its list of the year's 50 hottest bachelors.
"He's known in the trade as the complete and total package," Democratic state Chairman T.J. Rooney said. "If he were to harbor any political ambitions in this state, he'd be embraced with open arms."
Whether Heinz should seek a state office or run for Congress is part of the chatter that follows him. If he ran for the House from the 4th District, where the family's home is located in suburban Pittsburgh, he could face Republican Melissa Hart. She is favored to win a third term in November over Democratic challenger Steven Drobac, despite the district's Democratic majority.
"The tendency for someone who has a fairly high profile is to shoot kind of high, but that doesn't always work," said Stephen K. Medvic, an assistant professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College. "A lot of this will be determined by circumstances — what seats come open, who's vulnerable. No matter how popular he might be, running against an entrenched incumbent isn't a sure bet."
Hart isn't playing the guessing game, at least not in public. "The congresswoman is focused on serving the needs of her district, not on breathless speculation of who may or may not run for office," said Lee Cohen, Hart's spokesman.
Heinz said he recognizes that western Pennsylvania is his family's home. But since he grew up attending schools in Washington and most recently lived in New York, he finds it hard to define what home is. Although he is registered to vote in New York and is not affiliated with any party, Heinz plans to vote in Pennsylvania as a Democrat in November, Kerry spokesman Mark Nevins said.
For now, Heinz is making rounds for the Kerry campaign. He recently attended several house parties with Democrats in their western Pennsylvania homes. The campaign has sponsored thousands of such informal gatherings to boost Kerry's candidacy.
With the top button undone on his white, long-sleeved shirt, Heinz stood at Nancy Werme's dining room table in Beaver and talked about his stepfather's views on jobs, education and possible vice presidential candidates. About 30 people gathered to hear him, and many encouraged him to get into politics.
"I think he should name you for vice president," Carolyn Hewko, of Beaver, shouted during the discussion.
Though he describes himself as a nerd and not good at public speaking, Heinz seems comfortable talking about his family. He's especially eager to talk about health care and jobs, two issues he believes Americans care about most.
"The American worker is facing a hard time. This administration is aggravating the situation," he told the crowd at Werme's house.
Werme said she hopes Heinz decides to make his own run for office.
"He's very down to earth," Werme said. "I think that's what people need today — someone they feel comfortable with."