Risks Of Kids In Campaign Discourse; Swalwell’s Moneyball Run For Congress

ELECTION ’12//CONGRESS 15 | Purposefully involving your opponent’s young children into the political debate is always very risky proposition. On the same day the San Francisco Chronicle portrayed Rep. Pete Stark correctly as a congressman of some type of historical importance, in addition, to a propensity for Steve Jobsian outbursts, the same reporter, so to speak, went there. That there is attacking the three youngest of the Stark brood.

Carolyn Lochhead’s posting on SFGate revealing Stark’s 16-year-old son and 10-year-old twins receive Social Security benefits. Nothing illegal was asserted, but an allusion was made to Stark being worth—at least–$27 million. That figure comes from the Web site OpenSecrets.org and is a somewhat imprecise number from 2010 ranging between $19 million and $27 million and including an unspecified $11 million loss in 2009.

Nevertheless, going after kids is a big no-no and either floated to bait the anger of Stark or the beginnings of a campaign to portray him as economically out of touch with regular voters in his district—or both. However, if Stark was to have said such instances were inappropriate, then, of course, the story is legitimate and sadly the children collateral damage, but that isn’t the case here.

It’s a sophisticated and dirty move which has already raised the ire of some local Democratic Party operatives who know Stark’s children with his wife, Deborah Stark, as three polite and adorable kids. Fish Stark, the son who infamously was tabbed as his father’s top campaign researcher, appears to show genuine interests in what his dad does for a living, while the twins can often be seen calmly sitting among the crowd at town hall meetings in the area. At the same gatherings, the 10-year-boy often shouts out numbers used to randomly call on constituents to ask the congressman questions.

One high-profile East Bay Democrats this weekend went so far as to speculate whether this new low from the Chronicle is more than just coincidence coming a few days after Swalwell kissed the ring of “The Don” Perata. The blowback may include renewed efforts to illustrate the differences between between the family man Stark and the youthful bachelor Swalwell and whether one portrait resonates better with voters, many of whom are greatly struggling in this stubbornly poor economy.

STARK INSIGHTS Fortney ‘Pete’ Stark Jr. sits on a wicker chair next to a sizzling fire, his crossed feet propped up on an ottoman. Clad seriously but casually in loafers, a plaid cotton shirt and corduroy pants, he scans The Washington Post, his trifocals resting up on the bridge of his nose. As he reads the headlines out loud to himself, he accompanies them with ‘mm-hmm’s and nods or strings of unprintable words, depending on the news. Beside him rests some Sonoma County white wine in a clear plastic glass, his chief vice, excluding Diet Coke,” writes Fish Stark, the 16-year-old son of the embattled congressman writing about his famous father. Not bad at all for someone, according to the date on the teen Web site, couldn’t have been pushing 15.

The lengthy profile is important nevertheless and gives an intimate portrait of a political figure, who despite 40 years in Congress, very little is known about. I must admit cracking through to the real Stark is extremely difficult. He can be ruthlessly offensive to some and positively self-effacing in public. His beguiling personality might make him a great politician, but it also makes for a positively hopeless endeavor to pinpoint out what exactly makes him tick. However, the budding wordsmith offers these insights into his father, including Stark calling his ancestors “cowards” for dodging military services going all the way back to the late-19th Century and that Stark suffered nerve damage to his leg which now requires the use of his now-ubiquitous walking cane.

SWALWELL’S MONEYBALL CAMPAIGN Nobody it seems, other than The Citizen, seems to want to write about Eric Swalwell. If anybody was paying attention they would find perhaps find an underdog story of Hollywood proportions. In many ways, Swalwell’s rag-tag operation is astonishingly similar to the concepts behind Billy Beane’s Moneyball blueprint for manipulating inefficiencies and making the most with very little money.

Swalwell has always been playing catch-up when it comes to fundraising. It’s a major reason why he was forced to become beholden to rich land developers already crawling around the Tri-Valley. But, that hasn’t been enough to close the gap between his treasury and Stark’s, according to the most recent campaign finance reports showing him almost exactly $300,000 behind.

In the meantime, among local consultants and party loyalists, there has been some chuckling over Swalwell’s virtually running a campaign more dignified for running for city council than for a seat in Congress. If there’s a farmer’s market in the 15th District, Swalwell is there with his band of political misfits. Swalwell’s campaign manager is an unknown named T.J. Daly whose strategy thus far has been to wait for Stark to commit unforced errors while hoping his own walks straight down Vanilla Road. Don’t laugh because the plan so far has worked like a charm. The rest of the crew includes a dreadlocked, bearded information man and loads of high school volunteers. The last being of note since most congressional campaigns prefer college-age interns. While the group may be genuinely excited about Swalwell, they may actually be more interested in receiving credit for community service hours required for graduation from high school.

To take the Moneyball analogy further, recall the movie version ends with a dramatic home run that extended the A’s winning streak to 20 games. However, the 2002 season actually ended with a thud after another crushing loss to the unheralded Minnesota Twins in the Division Series. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with rooting for the underdog and Swalwell’s campaign lives and breathes it.

STARK’S ATTACK DOG Sharon Cornu has certainly put some bite in Stark’s campaign since taking over two months ago from San Francisco consultant Alex Tourk. Check out her lengthy quote in the San Francisco Chronicle regarding the issue of Social Security payments for Stark’s children. Note two references to the “young Swalwell” combined with a double dose of linkage to the Republican Party.

“The very premise of Social Security is that all Americans pay into it and all Americans benefit from it. If young Eric Swalwell wants to join the Ryan-Romney plan to undermine Social Security as we know it, it just shows he is not a true blue Democrat. Congressman Pete Stark has spent a lifetime protecting the rights of seniors and fighting to make Social Security stronger so it is able to deliver on its promise to all Americans.Before young Swalwell opens the door to changes in Social Security that Republicans would love to make, he should have done his homework.”