Monday, February 08, 2016

Kathleen Matthews: AKA Kathy Cunningham, Republican Political Operative


-by Jeffrey Hearn

Kathleen Matthews has had to face questions regarding her true political identity since day one of her campaign for the open congressional seat in Maryland's Eighth District. Since before then, actually, since her personal campaign contribution to conservative Republican Senator Roy Blunt-- during this election cycle-- was widely reported even before she formally announced her candidacy.

On the day she announced, therefore, she went out of her way to stress that she was "a lifelong Democrat." She had been inspired to get involved in politics, she said "by a local Congressman where I went to college, who fought against the Vietnam War, who looked at the incumbent President, Richard Nixon, and looked at the corruption that was going on, and fought for his impeachment."

When pressed, she eventually named that congressman: Pete McCloskey. What she did not say that day, and never says when she uses this anecdote on the stump in this Democratic primary, is that McCloskey was a Republican, and she was, according to reporting at the time, McCloskey's co-campaign manager for his 1974 general election campaign against Santa Clara Mayor Gary Gillmor, the Democratic nominee in California's 12th District that year, and that she continued to serve McCloskey after the election as a press assistant in his Palo Alto office.

Pete McCloskey was the kind of Republican who was usually referred to as a liberal Republican if they were on the east or west coast, and as a moderate Republican if they came from the Midwest; the kind of Republican congressman who was a loyal follower of Minority Leader Gerald Ford in the House in those days.

And it is true that he was an opponent of the Vietnam War. In 1972 he even entered the Republican primary in New Hampshire as a protest candidate opposed to sitting President Richard Nixon before turning his attention back to getting himself reelected to Congress.

It was said at the time that McCloskey had managed to win his own congressional primaries in 1972 and 1974 "with Democratic volunteers, money, and votes." The Republican primary in 1974, in a newly drawn district, was an especially close call. McCloskey won by just over 800 votes after his campaign persuaded 4000 Democrats to re-register as Republicans so they could vote for him in that GOP primary. One thousand of those Democrats-turned-Republican came from the Stanford campus.

"Lifelong Democrat" Kathleen Matthews-- maiden name: Kathy Cunningham-- was McCloskey's co-campaign manager in that race. And she was a student at Stanford University at that time. Was she one of those Stanford Democrats who re-registered as a Republican in an effort to help McCloskey survive a tough primary? How could she not have been?

The general election contest against Democrat Gillmor would prove a cakewalk by comparison. McCloskey routed Gillmor 69.1% to 30.9%.

By the spring of 1975 there were reports of growing dissatisfaction with McCloskey within the antiwar community at Stanford as a result of his support for funding for the short-lived Lon Nol regime in Cambodia, his support for bombing the Khymer Rouge at the time of the Mayaquez incident, and his failure to stand with the antiwar community during consideration of the Vietnam Humanitarian Assistance and Evacuation Act of 1975.

It also didn't help when McCloskey added Watergate "plumber" Egil "Bud" Kroegh to his payroll in 1975, though Matthews did her best to spin the story in her boss's favor: "Kathy Cunningham, press assistant in McCloskey's Palo Alto office, said staffers had received little student reaction to Krogh's hiring."

It was not even clear if McCloskey would run for re-election to his House seat in 1976. There was talk of a Senate run against incumbent Democrat John Tunney. McCloskey probably wouldn't be making a decision until the fall, Matthews told the press. "So far, none of the other candidates are his type of Republican." But by fall Kathleen Matthews had graduated and headed off to Washington, D.C.

"I was inspired by a local Congressman,where I went to college, who fought against the Vietnam War, who looked at the incumbent President, Richard Nixon, and looked at the corruption that was going on, and fought for his impeachment…" (Kathleen Matthews, campaign launch event, Silver Spring, Maryland, June 3, 2015)

All of that is true.

But it is a half-truth.

And it's not the only one.

Jeffrey Hearn is an historian by training. He is also a longtime movement progressive and a longtime resident of Maryland’s Eighth District. And, of course, he is a Jamie Raskin supporter, something he has previously blogged about here. And, of course, Blue America has endorsed Jamie. You can contribute to Bernie's campaign by tapping the thermometer below.

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At 9:54 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I expected it to be a lot worse. McCloskey was a lot more liberal than most Democrats today. All you needed to write about is who she married. That's a lot worse.


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