A Reagan backing an Independent – and a former Obama administration official – in an election?
In New York, that is exactly what is happening.
Conservative commentator Michael Reagan, the son of Republican President Ronald Reagan, is urging city Republican leaders to give Adolfo Carrion Jr. permission to run in the primary, saying it would strike a note of openness and diversity for a party that's grappling with how to attract Hispanic voters.
"Then the Republicans are showing that they do have an outreach program, they are trying to be an inclusive party, instead of an exclusive party," he said by phone Wednesday.
Carrion, a former Bronx borough president who served as the first White House urban affairs director, now hopes to become the first Hispanic mayor of the nation's biggest city. After dropping his longtime Democratic registration last year, Carrion is not affiliated with any party, but he's secured the Independence Party line and is seeking the Republican nomination.
To run for it, he needs an OK from party chairmen for three of the city's five boroughs, a rule that got an unflattering spotlight last week. The then-Bronx GOP chairman and Queens vice chairman were charged with taking bribes in exchange for pledging to sign off on the same type of waiver for an aspirant who ultimately didn't run.
Especially after the corruption allegations, "maybe it's time not to keep on looking at the good old boys, but to look at the new old boys," said Reagan, who said he called Carrion after reading articles about the mayor's race.
Carrion and Reagan, the late President Ronald Reagan's eldest son, appear at first blush as something of a political odd couple — the New York City candidate who describes himself as fiscally conservative but socially progressive, and the California-based conservative who recently drew questions over an op-ed article in which he said legalizing gay marriage could sink "any law based on morality. Think about polygamy, bestiality and perhaps even murder." (He has since said he was trying to be provocative and didn't mean to equate gay marriage with murder.)
"While we're not in tandem on every issue, I think on the issues I care about, like having a business-friendly city that's safe, that's oriented toward reform, that advances the idea that the best social program is a job and not the other way around," the two agree, said Carrion, who supports gay marriage.
Manhattan Republican Chairman Daniel Isaacs noted that Carrion wouldn't need party leaders' OK to run if he'd registered as a Republican. But they have discussed giving him permission because "we understand the importance of our party broadening its base," Isaacs said.
He said party officials had some concerns about Carrion's position on the debated police tactic known as stop and frisk, which they support; the candidate has told interviewers the city's approach to it needs adjusting.
Brooklyn GOP Chairman Craig Eaton said he'd thought it was "a brilliant idea" to give Carrion a waiver but moved on when it became clear that it wouldn't be possible to get the needed three OKs.
Party chairs in the other boroughs didn't immediately respond to email messages Wednesday evening. Several have already endorsed candidates but could give Carrion permission to run if they chose.
While it may sound peculiar for a veteran Democrat to go after the Republican nod in a heavily Democratic city, it can make strategic sense in New York City: The Democratic ticket is usually more crowded with experienced politicians.
Since last year's presidential election, national Republican leaders have engaged in soul-searching about broadening the GOP's appeal, including among minorities. A Republican National Committee report last month recommended spending $10 million to promote the party among Hispanic, black, Asian, gay and female voters.
If Carrion ends up in the Republican primary, he'll face opponents including billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota and George McDonald, who heads a group that aids the homeless.
Democratic contenders include former City Councilman Sal Albanese; Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; Comptroller John Liu; City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; the Rev. Erick Salgado, a pastor; and former Comptroller Bill Thompson.
Based on a reporting by The Associated Press.