Son of Watergate

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

No independent poll figures have been released, but political observers put Liddy in or near the lead. That could well be because of one more thing John McCain and Tom Liddy have in common: Both men have famous names, and neither has been afraid to use his notoriety to court donors and votes.

But there is a difference. John McCain was elected as a Vietnam-era prisoner of war, a man who survived unimaginable torture and bravely refused the early release he could have taken as the son of an admiral.

Tom Liddy and his supporters -- many of them from the McCain camp, although the senator hasn't endorsed a candidate in CD1 -- are counting on Liddy's notoriety as the son of G. Gordon Liddy to set him apart from the pack.

The Heussners take a break from working on their cars to chat with Tom Liddy.
Paolo Vescia
The Heussners take a break from working on their cars to chat with Tom Liddy.
Tommy boy: Parts of Liddy's campaign shtick are so rehearsed he sounds like a Stepford wife.
Paolo Vescia
Tommy boy: Parts of Liddy's campaign shtick are so rehearsed he sounds like a Stepford wife.

G. Gordon Liddy has become such a cartoon version of himself over the years that few recall the severity of his crimes and claims (as set forth in Will and other places). This is the former FBI agent who not only orchestrated the Watergate break-ins (one successful, the other not), he also agreed to participate in a never-executed plot to murder newspaper columnist Jack Anderson and planned a raid on the office of the psychiatrist of the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.

G. Gordon Liddy originally proposed a $1 million plan (code name: GEMSTONE) that, for example, would use Nixon campaign funds to eavesdrop on the Democrats' campaign plane (EMERALD), sabotage the air conditioners at the 1972 Democratic convention in Miami (TURQUOISE) and dangle prostitutes before the Dems (SAPPHIRE).

In the end, Liddy's plan was funded at about $250,000, and GEMSTONE fizzled early, after the second Watergate break-in. By his own admission, G. Gordon Liddy had every intention of breaking more laws. He just got caught before he could.

And now CD1 voters are being asked to send this guy's kid to Congress?

But consider this: Watergate, the scandal not long ago regarded as a turning point in American history, the end of our country's innocence and the beginning of investigative journalism, is now retro. Kitschy, even. The last couple of years have begat two sleeper hits: the movie Dick -- a farce in which Deep Throat is revealed to be two giggly teenage girls -- and the Phoenix restaurant Nixon's, a political memorabilia-packed watering hole with the motto, "Question Authority. Grill America."

Is Watergate cool?

Not to everyone. Stanley Kutler, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and author of the book Wars of Watergate, calls G. Gordon Liddy "a cuckoo."

"He's not Watergate. That's the myth. He was involved in an illegal break-in. But Watergate is not just an illegal break-in. Watergate is about the arrogance and the abuse of power and the criminal activity of a president of the United States. Gordon Liddy was a spear carrier. The perfect Watergate book will come about 50 years from now, when Gordon Liddy probably will not have more than -- if he has one index entry, that will be a lot. That's how unimportant he is to the story."

The name Liddy is the last thing that should qualify someone to hold public office, the professor says.

"I would argue that the young man ought to walk around with his head down in shame. I understand one's love for a father, but one should be able to see their father straight on and to remember that his father, after all, is a convicted felon doing things that we don't approve of, namely breaking into people's private property."

But that doesn't mean his father's name won't get Tom Liddy elected, Kutler adds.

"In American politics, you use what you can. Politics today is all about celebrity. O.J. Simpson is a celebrity, okay?"

It's not that simple for Tim Casey. Casey, a lawyer with the Phoenix firm Snell and Wilmer, a former Maricopa County Republican Party official and a lifelong resident of CD1, is serving as Tom Liddy's campaign counsel.

When he met Liddy three years ago at a continuing legal education seminar, he had no idea Liddy was the son of someone famous.

"I didn't know who in the hell he was," Casey says. "Never, never connected the names. In fact, I didn't know about that for maybe a couple of years until I was at some political event and his father was there and [Tom] introduced me to his dad."

Casey and Tom Liddy were fast friends. "He's the type of guy that you want to sit down with and have a beer with," Casey says. He'd been approached by other CD1 candidates, but when Liddy asked him to join the campaign, he accepted immediately.

He readily admits that G. Gordon Liddy's notoriety gives Tom an edge. Casey is convinced his friend should walk away with all of the good and none of the bad.

"Tom is blessed, and he's cursed. His dad is a convicted felon, and many in the population believe that what he did was wrong," Casey concedes. But he adds, ". . . Tom is not his father. He was a young lad during Watergate, and he is not responsible for the sins of the father."

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