In the evolving campaign for Ventura County sheriff, it was inevitable this issue would come up:
The previous sheriff was named Carpenter. One of the men who wants to become the next sheriff is named Carpenter. Are they related? Can the new Carpenter benefit from the good name and reputation of the old Carpenter?
Those questions are apparently sensitive to at least one member of former Sheriff Larry Carpenter's family. In a letter to the editor in today's Star, Margo Carpenter, the former sheriff's daughter, wrote that she is "disturbed" that Chief Deputy Dennis Carpenter -- no relation -- is using the nickname "Carp" -- a name long associated with her father, who uses it even in his signature.
"There is only one Sheriff Carp, and that's my Dad," Margo Carpenter wrote. "You may have heard the term 'bait and switch.' Well, don't get hooked."
I talked with the former sheriff this morning, and Larry confirmed that he has not publicly endorsed either the candidate who shares his surname or Cmdr. Geoff Dean. He said he may decide to support one or the other later in the campaign, "but that's about all I can say about that."
Don't underestimate the value of name association in relatively low-profile campaigns. Larry Carpenter was a well regarded sheriff, especially in rural areas of the county and most especially in his hometown of Fillmore. His name has residual positive association with voters.
Whenever these name-association issues come up (remember, for instance, that there was an Edward Kennedy and a Robert Dole among the multitude of candiates who ran for governor during the 2003 recall), I am reminded of a story my brother told me from 1968, when he spent some time as a college student canvassing for anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy. He and other volunteers were told that if they encountered people who praised the communist-hunting former Sen. Joe McCarthy and assumed this was the same Sen. McCarthy, they were not to correct them but simply to thank them for their support and move on.