Advertisement

CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Huffington Makes a Name for Himself : Politics: Republican candidate, formerly known as Michael, says he just likes being called Mike. Critics term the change a ploy to make a millionaire seem like a regular guy.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is a new member among the vaunted ranks of high-powered regular guys like President Bill, Governor Pete, Senator Bob and Congressman Newt.

California, meet Mike. Formerly Michael Huffington, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. And originally, at least at birth, Roy Michael Huffington Jr.

With little fanfare over the last several weeks, the campaign of Rep. Huffington (R-Santa Barbara) against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has decided to go casual with the candidate’s moniker. He’s Mike in the latest television commercials, a switch from last spring when ads called him Michael. And in campaign press releases, Mike became the standard reference about a month ago.

According to campaign officials, the change came one day when they were sitting around a table with the candidate and asked which name he preferred most.

Advertisement

“He said, ‘Frankly, I like Mike,’ ” said Ken Khachigian, a Huffington campaign adviser. “There’s nothing sinister about it. It just got to be uncomfortable calling somebody I was getting to know real well, Michael. The reality is, he’s Mike. He grew up with it and everybody knows him as Mike.”

To Huffington’s critics, however, it was a calculated political decision. They say he is being disingenuous by trying to appear like a regular guy who understands everyday life when he’s a multimillionaire.

“I think it’s sort of a con,” said Feinstein adviser Bill Carrick. “This guy who is sort of a rich, preppy millionaire from Texas is trying to re-create a persona that is more attractive to middle-class working Californians. . . . So he is suddenly Mike. But for me, he is just plain Congressman Huffington.”

Huffington’s name change is not unusual. In fact, he joins a widespread practice in politics that some observers trace to the informality of John F. (Jack) Kennedy’s White House and others to the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Advertisement

Today, the august names that used to adorn Washington nameplates have converted into a cast of commoners. Theodore, Arthur and Walter are more likely to be known now as Ted, Art and Wally.

For many though, the change comes from more than a desire to feel comfortable and casual. Experts say high office is no longer considered as regal as it once was and the officeholders of choice today are the ones who share everyday lives, not just regulate them.

“Everybody feels they want to be more approachable,” said GOP consultant Sal Russo.

Huffington still signs his name Michael, as he did when he recently wrote to Feinstein complaining about her campaign. And his wife, Arianna, still calls him Michael.

Advertisement

But for other purposes, Khachigian said, he has always gone by Mike.


Advertisement