Ben Quayle's run for Congress, interrupted by Internet columnist Nik Richie

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 6:54 PM

PHOENIX -- He is a different kind of handsome than his handsome father. He takes after his mother, with dark, swirly curls, a lithe build and a loose way of walking, like a marathon runner. He looks people in the eye when he talks to them, as if he's both trustworthy and trusting, and he thinks -- as he made perfectly clear in a campaign ad a few months ago -- that Barack Obama is the worst president in the world.

Ben Quayle, the son of former vice president Dan Quayle and the Republican candidate for Arizona's third congressional district, is addressing the crowd at Politics on the Rocks, a monthly social gathering for Phoenix conservatives.

"We have a housing crisis in Arizona," he tells his rapt audience in the chichi hotel ballroom. "But I really do think there's one more foreclosure that needs to be made. Foreclosing on Nancy Pelosi's House of Representatives!"

His wife, Tiffany, wears a fashionable blue party dress and an adoring smile. She appears with him in ads and photos on his Web site, a world in which they are always volunteering, playing with their nieces, walking their rescue dog and talking about their values and hopes for an America they firmly believe in. They are nice people. Good people. Probably -- as nice and good people tend to be -- consistently unsurprising people.

In recent months, though, the niceness -- and the discussion of issues that affect voters here in this district -- has been upended by an Internet event that has called into question how much our online pasts (or alleged pasts) will impact our real-life presents.

This race has become a race haunted by specters: the specter of Dan Quayle, shadowing the only one of his children to seek public office. The specter of a gossip maven, haunting a vice president's son. The specter of a faceless columnist looming over the Scottsdale nightlife from which he disappeared more than three years ago.

Most people outside of Arizona would not give a flying fig about this race were it not for the parental connection and the sleazy allegations of one Nik Richie.

Dirty Scottsdale

Nik Richie, the gossip blogger who legally changed his name from Hooman Karamian in an homage to Nicole Richie because he wanted to be like Perez Hilton, the gossip blogger whose name pays respects to Paris Hilton, is giving a tour of downtown Scottsdale. His version of it.

"It's pretty much Vegas without the gambling," he says, driving past a stretch of velvet-roped clubs. "You have the ASU crowd, and a lot of pretty girls who aren't so bright. I call them 'bottle rats.' "

Richie is maybe 5-foot-5, and has the compensatory swagger that men of such heights and certain personalities sometimes acquire, one best described as "Napoleonic." He has a soul patch. His voice is hoarse, which he explains is the result of partying, which he now does on a professional level.

"I don't even get up unless I'm being paid," he says. Later this evening he'll fly to Dallas to promote a club event with his wife, Shayne Lamas, the former "Bachelor" starlet and daughter of soap star Lorenzo Lamas, whom Richie married in Las Vegas after knowing her for less than a week.

Richie owns, a Web site populated with photos of the drunk and fabulous, a sort of Facebook for the club set. Back in 2007, before he founded The Dirty, he founded Dirty Scottsdale, a milder, local version. On weekend mornings, the bleary-eyed partiers of Scottsdale would log on, worried their pictures would be there, terrified they wouldn't. Celebrities were made by Dirty Scottsdale -- people known by their online nicknames of "Smeagol" or "Brock's Chick."

Brock's Chick was the discovery of one of Dirty Scottsdale's occasional columnists, Brock Landers, who posted several columns in 2007. Brock's Chick was a woman so hot that "the Arizona legislature recently passed a bill that forbids me and this young lady from being an item because we're too good looking," Brock wrote in one post, which contained Brock's typical blend of swagger and lechery. In another oft-quoted post, he claimed that his "moral compass is so broken I can barely find the parking lot."

Here, at the intersection of one savvy gossip blogger, one beautiful blonde, one striving politician and two very different sides of the Arizona valley, is where things got complicated.

Two months ago Richie claimed that Brock Landers was, in fact, Ben Quayle. Quayle, now 33, has always denied it. He says that he submitted a few user comments to the site, years ago, and that he can't remember what identity he used because it was such a minor event. Richie has no hard evidence: The people he claims would validate his story have refused to talk to the press. Around Scottsdale, there are a few people who say they'd heard Quayle was Brock, but no one who saw him type anything.

"I made everyone accountable" for their late-night actions through Dirty Scottsdale, Richie says. He boasts of clubs that he has had shut down, just because he didn't like the owners. He talks about the lives he has impacted. He likes this power. "People lived in fear of me," he says.

Maybe so. Maybe he did have this astronomical power. But no one outside the club circuit was talking about The Dirty until two months ago.

Most people would not give a pig's eye about Richie right now -- and this is to one man's delight and another's mortification -- if it were not for Ben Quayle.

Sense of duty

The Quayles are hardly a political dynasty, not like the Kennedys, but there is a sort of Quaylehood, a legacy that has been passed down from father to child. Dan Quayle's father, James Cline Quayle, was a newspaper publisher in Indiana and Arizona. Before Ben, who went to Duke University and then Vanderbilt Law School, three generations of Quayles had attended DePauw University and pledged Delta Kappa Epsilon.

Ben's birth coincided with his father's 1976 election to represent Indiana in the House of Representatives; the family lived in Fairfax County until Dan Quayle was tapped to be George H.W. Bush's vice president. Then they set off for the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory, with Ben enrolling in St. Albans. Family dinner conversation focused on world politics the way that some families might talk about office politics -- though in this family they were both the same.

"In elementary school civics class, the teachers would love us," says Ben's older brother Tucker, because they always knew the answers. " 'Oh, that's Howard Baker, the Senate majority leader.' . . . We lived it, and we continued to discuss it at home."

After law school, Ben practiced at firms in New York and California before moving to Arizona, where his parents already lived and where he had spent summers as a child. Most recently, he founded a small-business investment firm with Tucker, and he fundraises for the local Boys & Girls Club.

"The family is very political, and patriotic, and driven by a desire to make the world a better place," says Fred Davis, the political ad man who created Ben's Obama ad, and who knows the family well.

Davis recalls riding on a Telluride, Colo., ski lift with Dan Quayle one miserable winter day, during a particularly fraught time in George W. Bush's presidency. Davis wondered aloud, forgetting who he was talking to, "Why would anyone want to be president?" The elder Quayle turned to him and said, "Because if you honestly believe you are given skills that can make people's lives better, it is your duty to make people's lives better." This, Davis thinks, is what drives Ben and the rest of the Quayle clan. "I don't think they have the desire" to run for office so much as the sense of duty.

Ben's detractors have offered that his campaign is actually the second coming of DQ -- a chance for the elder Quayle to revisit unfinished business, or to shed the Barbie-doll image that Dan acquired while in office. (His "potatoe" incident has proven multi-generational: In the Twittersphere, Ben is sometimes known as "Tater Tot.") Both Quayles have used the same publicity firm, the same ad man and the same donor base, which helped Quayle raise over $2 million for his campaign -- more than twice the amount raised by his Democratic foe, Jon Hulburd.

"Public service has always been ingrained in us," Ben says. But his father's political history "didn't play any part in my decision-making. . . . It got down to me being frustrated with what was happening, and seeing the opportunity to jump and make a change. I didn't want to be 10 years down the line, when Tiff and I do have kids, and look at them and say, I had the opportunity to give it a try, but I didn't."

He wants his parents to be proud of him. He wants his wife to be proud of him. He wants, God-willing, the people of Arizona to be proud of him.

He and Tiffany sit at a picnic table on a sunny Saturday afternoon, a few days after the Politics on the Rocks event -- one in a series of wholesome meet-and-greet barbecues that the campaign has held around the district. This one is at a park in north Phoenix, surrounded by low-slung ranch houses with tricycles in the driveways. Ben is in shirtsleeves, Tiffany's in a checked skirt. Despite being married for less than a year -- they were set up through family friends -- they sometimes complete each other's sentences or finish each other's thoughts. Asked how campaigns have changed since his father's era, he says:

"There is one funny story."

"Oh, the shoebox?"

"Yeah, the shoebox."

When Ben first decided to seek office, the former vice president offered him one piece of advice. What Ben needed, Dan told him, were a bunch of shoeboxes. One representing every voting precinct, with a notecard in them for every voter. That way he could better keep track of who was planning to vote for him, and make personal calls to those still on the fence.

As the election approached, Dan worried that his son was ill-prepared: "Where are your shoeboxes?!" he asked his son.

"Dad," Ben replied witheringly. "We call them computers now."

Dan backed off.

"[Dan will] call me at 11 at night and 6 in the morning to talk about polls," Davis says, but he's not nearly as involved in the campaign as people might expect. He wants his son, Davis says, to find his own way.

Dan has publicly inserted himself into the campaign only on rare occasions, but when allegations first surfaced about Dirty Scottsdale and another Republican candidate used it as the basis for an attack ad, he lashed out:

"I took my fair share of outrageous slams in politics," Dan wrote in a widely circulated e-mail, "but Steve Moak's vicious smear against my son is over the top and unprecedented."

When Tiffany is asked what aspect of campaigning she has found most difficult, she answers thoughtfully.

"I'm not a Quayle. I mean, I am, now that we're married, but I didn't grow up with that last name. The Quayle family has always been out there. They're used to people being able to have an opinion about them. . . . That's been -- " she searches for an inoffensive word -- "eye-opening."

He Said/He Said

"Don't you put me on The Dirty."

A woman in platform peep-toes staggers away from her friend, who is chasing her with a camera phone through the nightclub Revolver around midnight on a Thursday. On a catwalk running through the bar, a parade of mostly naked women show off a clothing collection whose theme appears to be "Gross." Peep-Toe and her friend are now giggling, shrieking, shaking their bleached and tousled hair. "Donchoo darrrrrrre!"

Revolver is a spacious lounge in the heart of downtown Scottsdale: wood floors, squashy sofas, vaguely Western. A few weeks earlier, Quayle participated in a Politics on the Rocks event here.

This is also a place that Nik Richie says he frequented with his wingman, Brock Landers.

Was it Quayle? A few of the old guard here along the Scottsdale strip -- the aging club kids, the professional DJs and party promoters -- think that it was. They remember seeing Richie with a gregarious guy named Ben.

"He said he was one of the guys writing for Dirty," says Jon Amaral, who has been DJing at clubs around Scottsdale for several years and who knows Richie. "He was definitely friendly. He just seemed like a regular person."

This is what's known: Richie says that the two men met at a celebrity golf tournament several years ago and became friends after he asked Ben to refer him to an intellectual property lawyer, frequenting the Scottsdale nightlife scene and then stumbling back to Ben's apartment a few blocks away in the wee hours of the morning. Quayle has acknowledged that he did refer Richie to an attorney but hasn't said more about the nature of their relationship. According to records, he did live in the apartment complex identified by Richie, but other claims by Richie are lacking: Richie has said that Quayle couldn't be merely a "commenter" because the site had no comment functionality in 2007 -- but a search through site archives shows that there were comments.

It's all very He Said/He Said -- a strange collision of worlds between two very different types of Arizona royalty: the golden son whom people want to succeed and the Internet maven whom no one wants to offend.

"Please, if you quote me make sure it's something positive," says an old lacrosse teammate of Quayle's, who has said only positive things in the brief interview (Quayle wasn't the best player, but he was a hardworking player, always putting the good of the team before himself).

"I don't want to end up on the site myself," says Amaral, the local DJ. Before agreeing to talk, he'd wanted to make sure that doing so wouldn't get him in trouble with Richie.

Richie, who continues to insist that he loves Quayle and would vote for him if he lived in the right district, also continues to insist that he doesn't see what the big deal would be about being affiliated with his site. When he sees Quayle talk about it on television, "I can tell he thinks it's funny."

The alleged involvement with the site has resulted in negative ads, both in the primaries and the general election. "I've got five kids -- three daughters," says competitor Hulburd in an interview, of his decision to make Brock Landers into a campaign issue. The site, he says, "is a hostile environment" and a "bad place for women."

The site has potentially inserted itself into a race that, in this traditionally Republican, upper-middle-class district, should have been a cakewalk: In one recent poll by the left-leaning Daily Kos, Hulburd was shown slightly ahead, though Quayle is still expected to win.

At the picnic, Quayle good-naturedly answers a few questions: "I wrote a few posts that were satirical and fictional three or four years ago," he says, tiredly.

But he does not think it's funny.

"I regret any association," he says, "but it was such a minor association that's been blown out of proportion."

Was Brock Landers . . . Ben Quayle?

A search through news archives for other tidbits concerning the former vice president's son turns up one other example of Quayle using an alias. It was in 1989. While living in Washington, 13-year-old Quayle used his mother's maiden name to sneak into Martha's Table, along with George H.W. Bush's grandson. Martha's Table is a soup kitchen. The boys wanted to volunteer without being recognized.

Browsing histories

In this age of Facebook, one might ask how much it even matters.

"I don't give a [fudge]" if he was Brock Landers, says Lindsey Bobbitt, who's celebrating her birthday at Revolver. "Who doesn't do stupid stuff that's now online?"

"I forget," says her friend Otgadahe Whitman Fox. "Is he a Republican or a Democrat?"

Quayle is young. It's been part of his appeal this cycle that when he talks about the future of the country, it's a future that he -- not just his kids or grandkids -- will personally be experiencing for a very long time.

"We have friends who are underemployed," says Tiffany, explaining that she thinks it's particularly important for her generation to get involved.

This generation is accustomed to embarrassing Facebook posts circulating online, to forgotten blog entries coming back to haunt their original posters, to unattended Flickr accounts being mined for evidence of unscrupulous partying. In coming decades, all political candidates will have Internet pasts, will be facing down juvenile behavior that would previously have remained buried.

On a recent afternoon, Brock's Chick herself -- the woman whose face became a symbol of scandal -- is reached by telephone. Staci Gonzales is now a mother of two living in Pennsylvania. "I thought it was kind of cheesy," she says of Dirty Scottsdale. Occasionally someone will recognize her -- she was once stalked in a shopping mall -- and she's reminded of her youth. She lived in Scottsdale for only a few months, and in that time there she never met Brock Landers. She and her friends "were always out, we were always being dramatic, we were always taking pictures."

Back at Revolver, a 20-something wearing a collared shirt unbuttoned to his naval is approached and asked what he thinks of Ben Quayle.

"I don't know who that is," he says, confused. "I wake up at 5 p.m."

When his day begins, the days of the politicos and the campaign types who live in another world in the Arizona valley are coming to an end, and they rarely, if ever, meet at all.

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