Seventh district congressional candidate Kate Whitman does not want to distance herself from her mother. But at a candidate forum on Thursday night, she did draw a distinction, describing herself as “more conservative than my mother.”
In terms of Kate Whitman’s candidacy, being the daughter of former two term Republican governor Christine Todd Whitman cuts both ways.
Whitman’s name recognition helped get her a place as one of the most high profile candidates in the crowded seventh district Republican field. And she managed to raise $200,000 during the first quarter of 2007 – more than any other candidate (even if some, like state Senator Leonard Lance, were not yet raising money). At least some of that money came from contacts made through her mother, though Whitman said that there are new donors as well.
But Christie Whitman’s name, with its pro-choice connotations and the memories of budgets past– is mud to a lot of conservative voters. And those are the types who typically turn out for primaries.
In an interview today, Kate Whitman made no apologies for her mother’s legacy, and said that she was lucky to have grown up with a gubernatorial mother, referencing the time that, while she was studying abroad in South Africa, they sipped tea with then-president Nelson Mandela.
But Whitman emphasized that her mother’s policies are not necessarily her own.
“She is who she is, and I guess people do hear the name Whitman and think that I’m going to have the same exact policies,” said Whitman. “I’ve found the only way I can prove that wrong is hard work.”
Among the differences from her mothers: while she’s pro-choice, she favors a ban on partial birth abortion (which her mother vetoed while governor) and the elimination of federal funding for abortion providers.
And the hard work entails knocking on doors in all four counties and working the phones tirelessly.
Some of Whitman’s other, more conservative stances: she does not support a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq and says that she wants to ban illegal immigrants from getting bank accounts and wiring money to their countries of origin, but streamline the process for legal immigrants as well.
“”I don’t believe in amnesty,” she said. “Is it reasonable to kick out 12 million? I don’t think that’s possible.
But Whitman also argues that, wile she’s young, her experience working for former California Rep. Christopher Cox (who now heads the Securities and Exchange Commission) gives her more congressional experience than any of the other candidates.
In addition to her time as Executive Director of the Republican Leadership Conference (which is co-chaired by her mother), Whitman has her own public relations company, worked in the communications office of the Labor Department under Secretary Elaine Chao, worked as the spokeswoman for former New Hampshire governor Craig Benson and did a brief stint as communications director of the New Hampshire GOP.
Conservative strategist Rick Shaftan said that Whitman can look to Tom Kean, Jr. – another child of a moderate Republican governor – as an example of how to define herself.
But Kean had the advantage of first being able to join the legislature through county conventions.
“She’s in a primary, and in a primary you have to distinguish your own identity,” said Shaftan.
Shaftan said that conservatives generally don’t like Whitman because of her fiscal policies like floating bonds to fund the state pension system and because pro-lifers felt ostracized by her.
“What has Kate Whitman done in her life? She works for a PAC her mother runs, so she’s not distinguishing herself as an individual… It’s hard for her to be her own person if she’s as liberal as her mom.” he said. “If Christie Whitman wants runs for congress, then she should run for congress.”
State Sen. Leonard Lance, who officially declared his congressional candidacy last week, is also a legacy – his father, the late Wesley Lance, served as state Senate president.
At an informal Middlesex County presidential straw poll, Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks commented that, unlike certain unnamed candidates, he didn’t come from a long line of politicians.
“I’ve been kidding that I’m going to get my good friend Don DiFrancesco to adopt me so I can say I’m the son of a senate president and a governor, and that would give me a leg up,” he said.
Mark and Warren Township Mayor Victor Sordillo are running to the right of most other candidates. Marks says that he considers Christie Whitman too liberal, but won’t judge her daughter by it.
But it’s possible that, in a field with six other candidates, Whitman may not have to burnish her conservative credentials. If there are still a lot of candidates on primary day – which will likely have a low turnout—then the vote may be sliced up into so many pieces that there’s no telling what the winning formula will be, said Ingrid Reed, Director of the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey Project.
And once it comes to the general election, Reed said, a centrist Republican may have a better shot against Democrat Linda Stender.
“She probably has made a calculation that conservative republicans don’t win statewide office, and looking at this district and running against Linda Stender, you probably can win if you’re more of a centrist person,” said Reed.