Running for Office an Expression of Patriotism for Some

While the Sept. 11 attacks drove some Americans to donate to charity, volunteer in hospitals and hang the flag outside, other concerned citizens have expressed their patriotism by running for political office.

Former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles said that before the attacks he was thinking against running for the North Carolina Senate seat that retiring Sen. Jesse Helms is leaving behind. But on Wednesday, he filed his candidate papers.

"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, whatever discomfort I may have with politics now seems unimportant and immaterial," he wrote on his Web site,

"I do not claim to have all the solutions for the challenges we face, but I do believe my experience in business, community service and government give me something valuable to offer to my state and my country," he added.

Bowles isn’t the only one to say that the attacks and subsequent war on terrorism influenced their decision to run for the 2002 elections.

Another Clinton administration official, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, announced as early as November that he was compelled to run for governor in Massachusetts after mulling over how he could contribute to the community in the wake of the attacks.

"In the back of my mind, I wonder about entering the fray again," he said. "But the question for all of us is, ‘how can we make a contribution?’"

Reich is running against Gov. Jane Swift, who he blames for mishandling the agency that runs Logan Airport, which was the origin of the two hijacked planes that hit Tower One and Tower Two of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Former South Dakota Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, now a Washington lobbyist, also has said the terrorist attacks made up his mind whether to run for the House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. John Thune, who is running for the Senate.

And it's not just veteran politicians making a go of it. At least a half dozen newcomers running for Congress from California alone have listed patriotism and the desire to increase national security as their primary impetus for running for office.

Flight attendant Elle Kurpiewski, who has no political experience, said airline layoffs and security issues in the wake of Sept. 11 led her to challenge U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., in the upcoming election.

James "Jim" Aldrich of Santa Cruz said he decided to challenge five-term Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon after the attacks.

"For a number of years I had encouraged friends to run and I figured this was the final straw," he said of Sept. 11.

Aldrich, a professor of sociology at California State University, said he blames Congress' handling and oversight of the intelligence community for the tragedy.

"I think I could at least do a better job in at least responsibility of that oversight," he said.

But candidates running for office under the banner of Sept. 11 beware: The call to arms could backfire.

"There are plenty of ways to show your support for the country. Running for office? In some ways that’s kind of a leap," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow of government studies at the Brookings Institution.

"You’re noticing a specific trend across the country, politicians stepping up and saying they’re patriots," said Richard Harwood, president of the Harwood Institute’s Patriotism Project in Washington, D.C. "Candidates who tout themselves as patriots better deliver because people are already suspicious of what they’re saying, taking it as mere political rhetoric."

Of course, not all Washington watchers are weary.

"I think it’s representative of the population on the whole," said John Zogby, president of Zogby International polling service. "We see civil spirit and belief in government, confidence in our institutions, back to high points that haven’t been achieved since before Watergate – people are rallying around the flag."