The Coattails Candidate

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Being a legacy candidate is a blessing and a curse. For Ben Quayle, it must have been daunting to plunge into politics knowing he had almost zero shot of climbing to the heights reached by his father–even if his father’s defining moment may have been misspelling “potato”–and that any success he achieved would be written off by skeptics as the product of nepotism, name recognition and daddy’s Rolodex. On the other hand, Quayle’s lineage was instrumental last night, as he emerged from a bruising 10-candidate Republican primary in the race to succeed retiring Rep. John Shadegg in Arizona’s 3rd congressional district.

Buoyed by prodigious fundraising — Quayle raised $1.3 million, more than twice his nearest competitor — Quayle captured 23% of the vote, beating businessman Steve Moak and former state senator John Waring by a few percentage points. His victory sets up a general-election contest with Democrat Jon Hulburd, a Phoenix lawyer. While Hulburd has amassed a sizable war chest, the district tilts consevartive–handicappers like the Cook Political Report rate it likely Republican–and the race looks like Quayle’s to lose.

Given the bumps in his campaign, Quayle, 33, may find a way. The Scottsdale-based attorney and businessman, who was raised out of state and has never held elected office, persevered through multiple missteps. He made waves earlier this summer by shooting a campaign spot that called Barack Obama “the worst President in history,” compared tax-happy politicians to a Mexican drug cartel and promised to “knock the hell out of Washington.” Quayle positioned himself as a “family-values candidate,” but drew fire when he “borrowed” children for a campaign mailing in which he vowed to raise his family in the district. (His campaign said the children were his nieces.) Meanwhile, Quayle’s social-conservative bona fides were stained by the revelation that he had written for a racy website. The site’s founder said Quayle posted under the moniker “Brock Landers,” a fictional porn star from the movie Boogie Nights, issuing such declarations as, “On a scale of 1-to-10, I’m awesome,” and “My moral compass is so broken I can barely find the parking lot.”

In the closing hours of the campaign, Quayle pere, whose contacts were heavily mined by the campaign, penned a letter defending his son. “I have never in my 35 years of politics seen such an ugly, slanderous assault in the closing days of a campaign against a fellow Republican,” he wrote, making reference to opponents who attacked his son’s association with the controversial website. Marilyn Quayle, Ben’s mother, also lashed out at his critics. It’s not the first time she’s defended a member of her family against lascivious accusations. When Dan Quayle was running for vice president in 1988, rumors surfaced that he’d had a tryst with a woman during what was purported to be a golf outing. Marilyn famously went to bat for her husband by saying: “Anybody who knows Dan Quayle knows he would rather play golf than have sex, any day.”