Son of Watergate

Can Tom Liddy use his father's notoriety to break into Congress?

In the wee hours of June 17, 1972, G. Gordon Liddy slipped into his bedroom and undressed quietly in the dark, hoping not to wake his wife, Frances.

"Is that you?" Frances asked, as Liddy would recall years later in his autobiography, Will.

"Yes."

". . . Anything wrong?"

"There was trouble. Some people got caught. I'll probably go to jail."

Liddy was right. He wound up serving 52 months in prison -- longer than anyone else involved -- for his role in orchestrating the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel that ultimately brought down a presidency when Richard Nixon tried to cover up his knowledge of it.

But a life of crime is not without its rewards. Of all the president's men, none has capitalized on his Watergate experience as skillfully, zealously and shamelessly as George Gordon Battle Liddy.

One country's crisis of confidence is one man's boondoggle. Liddy celebrates Watergate constantly -- on his nationally syndicated talk-radio show (weeknights 7 to 10, on KXAM 1310 AM here in metropolitan Phoenix), on his Web site (www.ggordonliddy.com), even on the license plate of his red 1994 Corvette ZR-1 (H20GATE).

Until recently, Liddy has used his Watergate infamy to sell only himself, through books, radio and speaking engagements. But now he's using it to sell a candidate for Congress, his son Tom, a Republican running for Arizona's first congressional district, which encompasses much of the conservative southeastern corner of metropolitan Phoenix.

Tom, the fourth of the Liddys' five children, turns 38 this month; he was 10 the year his father went to prison. He's got a good résumé (lawyer, family man, ex-Marine), good hair and a boyish nature -- the guy next door, his supporters say, except for his notorious dad.

Tom isn't flamboyant like his dad. These days, G. Gordon is as famous for his appearances on shows like Miami Vice and sales of his "Stacked and Packed" calendars (well-endowed, scantily clad women bearing large firearms) as he is for the Watergate break-in. Tom's got an unadorned calendar hanging on his fridge, and says he's never tried his father's infamous trick of testing his endurance by holding his hand over a flame 'til the flesh is charred.

The candidate says he's much more like his mom, a mild-mannered retired school teacher who taught her own children to hold their heads high no matter what, and to always give back to the community.

But he is G. Gordon Liddy's son in many ways. Tom is fiercely patriotic -- you can almost hear John Philip Sousa in the background when he talks -- and he's conservative like his father, too.

And like his dad, Tom Liddy is a utilitarian. Although he refused to be photographed for New Times holding a sparkler (Happy Fourth of July) because it might send the wrong message to children, Tom Liddy has no problem capitalizing on his felonious father's name to break into Congress. Dad's on-air pimps have brought a flood of $5 and $10 contributions from all over the country.

The son may not be willing to break and enter to get what he wants, but he seems to say what he thinks a particular voter wants to hear, and parts of his campaign shtick are so obviously rehearsed that he gets to the end of a paragraph and starts over again, like a Stepford wife in need of a tune-up. Whether Tom Liddy is talking about swiping a Christmas tree as a kid or abandoning his anti-tax stance to build a stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, he sounds like a man whose credo is "The ends justify the means."

It is June 17, the 28th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, and G. Gordon and Frances Liddy are hosting a fund raiser for Tom at their home in Scottsdale.

Dozens of people brave the dusty wind of the summer's first monsoon, wending their way back into master-planned Gainey Ranch, through not one but two gates, to the Liddys' large home, where the H20GATE Corvette is parked in the driveway.

Inside, the decor is nondescript, except for the firearms all over the place (including a lamp fashioned out of a rifle and bayonets) and the Watergate, Nixon-era and FBI memorabilia crowding the walls and bookshelves of the den. One wall is devoted to magazine covers starring G. Gordon Liddy: Liddy as a stick of dynamite, on the cover of Time; a shirtless Liddy, on the cover of Running; Liddy as part of a crowd celebrating Watergate's 10th "reunion" for The New Republic.

Admission to the event is a $100 contribution to Liddy for Congress; for an extra 50 bucks, a professional photographer will take a picture of you, flanked by Tom and G. Gordon.

A few pols are present -- former GOP state legislators John Kaites and Stan Barnes (Liddy's campaign chair) and Larry Pike, Senator John McCain's 1998 campaign manager and part of Liddy's bulging kitchen cabinet. But for the most part, this is not your typical button-down, political-reception crowd. More like the crowd you'd see at the state fair. Guests rifle the bookcases -- The Catcher in the Rye and Real Men Don't Eat Quiche share the shelves with John Dean's Blind Ambition and J. Anthony Lukas' Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, with a Watergate Hotel ashtray serving as a bookend.

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