Jimmy Carter's Son Aims for the Senate
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Nevada holds its primary tomorrow, and among the names on the ballot will be one familiar to lots of Americans. Carter, as in Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter. Jack Carter is running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican John Ensign. For most of his adult life, Jack Carter has been content to avoid politics and the public eye. But now, at age 59, he says he finally feels compelled to follow in his father's footsteps.
As NPR's Luke Burbank reports, those footsteps are leading the younger Carter on a steep, uphill climb.
LUKE BURBANK reporting:
Considering the fact that he's running for the U.S. Senate and that his dad used to be president, Jack Carter cuts a pretty low profile. His campaign office is an anonymous little building off an anonymous sun-baked street in Las Vegas. He drives a green mini-van, he's soft-spoken and even when he tries to do some good old-fashioned campaigning, it seems a little out of his nature.
Mr. JACK CARTER (Candidate for U.S. Senate, Nevada): We're driving up now to the entrance gate. My pass that I have is expired, so I have to buy a new one.
BURBANK: Pulling up to the front gate at Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas, Carter decides, almost as an afterthought, to press the flesh with the guy in the ticket booth.
Mr. CARTER: I'm Jack Carter. I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I want you to vote for me.
BURBANK: The ticket-taker either doesn't understand or doesn't care, as he finishes up the transaction.
Unidentified Man #1: Okay, you're all set. Thank you.
BURBANK: And so it goes for Jack Carter, a man who has avoided politics for most of his life, but now says he wants to be a Senator, a man who doesn't mind being known as Jimmy Carter's son, but doesn't want it to be all that he's known for.
Mr. CARTER: I want people to go in and understand where I'm coming from, who my family is, so that I don't have to lose an election, you know, to get people to finally understand, you know, where I'm coming from. And now it's up to me to come through the door and say okay, this is what I think today.
BURBANK: What Carter thinks today is that the nation needs to get serious about balancing its checkbook. He says the turning point for him, what got him angry enough to enter politics after all these years, was the way the Bush administration handled the Katrina disaster - not so much the slow response, but the way the government threw money at the problem, money he says it didn't have to spend.
Mr. CARTER: There's a difference between the Republicans that I grew up with, as an example, and the ones that we have today. They wanted to be fiscally sound, but these guys here, in my opinion, have run out country off the road, and we've got to go put it back up on the tracks.
BURBANK: Carter says his background as a businessman - he's worked in the commodities market and as an investment consultant for most of his life -qualifies him for the position he's seeking. He says he supports a withdrawal from Iraq in phases, based on how functional the new government there becomes. As far the Israel-Hezbollah conflict goes, he sides with Israel. Mostly, though, his message is one of populism.
Mr. CARTER: I am a country boy, and I believe very deeply that country people -or ordinary, regular people - are the basis of everything.
BURBANK: The Vegas strip glimmers in the distance, but Carter seems a lot more comfortable in the scrub brush and Joshua trees of Red Rock. Back in 1977, when his father has just moved in to the White House, Jack Carter told the L.A. Times he thanked God he didn't live in D.C. Now, though, he's running a long-shot campaign hoping to get there. A recent Las Vegas Sun Times poll showed Carter trailing Republican incumbent John Ensign by 21 points.
Unidentified Woman: At this time, folks, double-check to make sure your electronics devices and your cell phones are in the off position. Flight attendants, prepare doors for departure, please.
BURBANK: The next day, Jack and his wife, Elizabeth Carter, are on a Southwest Airlines flight bound for Chicago, where he'll hold some fundraisers with his father. The bargain basement flight isn't just for appearances. Carter's campaign trails John Ensign's by some $3 million.
Have you been in any close contact with the Democratic Senate Election Committee?
Mr. CARTER: No, not particularly, they have their own way of doing things.
BURBANK: Don't let the laughter fool you. Carter is peeved at his Democratic Party, and the way, as he sees it, they've written off rural areas - rural areas that are a big chunk of Nevada.
Mr. CARTER: We are focusing on the cities, where heavy population centers are, and we are doing very little, I think, in the rural areas.
BURBANK: As a result, Carter says, he's charting his own course, hoping his down home personality and family name will be enough to pull off the upset. As the flight descends towards Chicago, the flight attendant recognizes Carter. He asks her for her vote. She wants to know how his little sister, Amy, is doing.
Amy was always so cute, the flight attendant says. For his part, Carter flashes his father's trademark smile and thanks the woman for her support.
Luke Burbank, NPR News.