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Love You, Hate Your Politics
What happens when donkeys and elephants date
February 12, 2004
Capital Living By Betsy Rothstein and Sarah Bouchard

When Stephen Woodward, a medical researcher in Dupont Circle, began dating Jim one spring, nothing seemed to threaten their blossoming relationship. Woodward, a hardened liberal Democrat, didn't even notice that his new beau was a right-wing Republican.

By the time November 1992 rolled around, however, President George H.W. Bush was up for re-election and Bill Clinton was new on the scene. As political TV ads came out, they came to the shocking realization that they were political polar opposites.

"We both kind of characterized each other in the extreme," Woodward says. "It's kind of funny. When he said he was a Republican, I thought, he's gotta be a moderate, but he was a right-wing Republican. He hated taxes. He was anti-abortion. He always painted me as a bleeding liberal. Yeah, it bothered me."

The couple kept the peace by not discussing politics. "We avoided talking about politics so that we would not argue," Woodward says, explaining that his boyfriend's conservative politics "didn't make my stomach turn, but it did create a small level of anxiety because of the whole avoidance issue."

Three years later, the couple split. Now Woodward dates a Log Cabin Republican turned Democrat and insists he's much happier as a result. "I want someone who shares similar political beliefs," he says.

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, The Hill took a closer look at what happens when Republicans and Democrats date, or for that matter, fall in love.

Washington's most famous crossbreeding couple, of course, are Democratic political _strategist James Carville and Republican operative Mary Matalin. Despite all their political spats on national TV shows like "Meet the Press," the couple have been married for 10 years and have two children.

Paul Begala, one of the Democratic hosts of CNN's "Crossfire," knows Carville and Matalin well and says their marriage is genuine. "They have as great a marriage as they could, so it can work," says Begala. He feels so strongly about Carville and Matalin's bond that he adds: "If God forbid anything happened to me and my wife, they could raise our kids."

Still, Begala has never dated a Republican and can't imagine it, especially since he fell in love with his wife at 19 and has been with her for 23 years. The staunch Democrat reasons that "it's easier to fall in love with someone who loves their country but has a different view of how to improve it than with someone who just doesn't like politics.

"I couldn't have married someone who's an atheist."

"In some cases, dating a member of the opposite political party can come as a welcome relief.

"A friend who was worried about Rep. Shelley Berkley's (D-Nev.) single status after the failure of her first marriage asked the congresswoman if she'd be interested in dating a Jewish doctor. She was.

I took my car in case it didn't work out," the 53-year-old Berkley says.

After about 20 minutes of small talk, Berkley says, her date, Dr. Larry Lehrner, had a confession to make. "I thought, good Lord, what can this man be confessing to me?" Berkley says.

Lehrner confessed to being a Republican - an admission that came as a welcome relief compared to other possibilities that crossed her mind. "I was so grateful that's what his confession was," she says, noting that she soon found out that she was compatible with the 55-year-old Lehrner "on a whole host of issues."

The couple married in March 1999.

Berkley says that being married to a Republican has actually moderated both of their positions. "I see issues through a different pair of eyes," she says, adding that she is now "a better, more well-rounded legislator."

Asked if there are ever any politically related quarrels, Berkley responds: "We don't have heated arguments; we're not that kind of couple." She adds, however, that she felt bad going home after she voted against tort reform.

But she says her doctor husband "couldn't have been more loving about it."

The happy couple will celebrate a "Vegasy Valentine's Day" by going to dinner at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas and attending Wayne Newton's midnight show.

One Democratic Hill aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity says she knows of a Hill couple with opposing political beliefs. "A lot of times they are bickering because they don't necessarily agree," she says.

The aide admitted that she'd have a tough time dating a Republican and that "How are you registered?" was among the first questions she asked her current boyfriend.

"It would be like dating everything I oppose," she says of going out with a man of the elephant persuasion. "I'd have to convert him, and if I couldn't, it wouldn't work out.

"What would our kids be? I couldn't bring Republicans into this world. It would just be too much. I couldn't procreate with them [Republicans] - no no no no no."

But she hasn't exclusively dated donkeys: "I went out with this guy who was a Libertarian whacko. He was just totally out there, and god was he a lot of fun. He wasn't a Republican, but he was divorced and wasn't ready to settle down or anything. He was just sowing his oats."

Robyn Ridgley, former press secretary for Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), on the other hand, says she couldn't put up with a staunchly Democratic mate. "I'm such a passionate person that if [my husband] Brad were spouting the liberal point of view and hate-Bush mentality it would just drive me crazy," says Ridgley. "If you're passionate about your position, you're asking for a relationship like [the movie] 'War of the Roses.'"

The former staffer says she knew of a Republican aide who dated a Democratic congressman. "Actually, politics didn't matter because sex was the bond," she recalls. "He really liked her. They talked about other things." She says the relationship lasted a year.

Nonetheless, some Republicans say that loving a Democrat is possible.

John Goodwin, a 25-year-old Republican who is a government-affairs professional and chairman of a young bipartisan networking group, Y-GAP, says a relationship with a Democrat is possible because he had one. "The fact of the matter is that if you can get by the politics and get to know the person, you can definitely develop a relationship," says Goodwin. "One of the greatest relationships I had was with a Democrat. She and I respected each other's positions, agreed to disagree and actually enjoyed disagreeing with each other sometimes. We got along famously."

The difficulty of dating Democrat women, he says, is that they don't often cross his path. "I tend to hang out with my Republican friends and frequent bars and restaurants that generally have a Republican-leaning clientele," he says.

Goodwin says a pitfall of crossbreeding for him is the potential bickering.

"I tend not to be confrontational and defensive unless attacked," says Goodwin. "If I meet a girl and she bashes one of my R's, the president, or R's in general, it is an instant turnoff. If she does it playfully it can be cool, but if she is extremely partisan and whiney and belligerent, it takes all the fun out of it. If I wanted a debate, I would go watch 'Crossfire.'"

Todd Thorpe, the legislative director for Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), potentially had the debate of his life on his hands when he met his wife, Amanda Rogers Thorpe, during the Clinton impeachment proceedings: she was a White House intern and his boss, Cannon, was among the House impeachment managers.

The couple began dating in 1999 and married in May 2002. Although the union was "almost a deal breaker for my family," Amanda says, "he's the nicest Republican I know. I've dated a lot of Republicans. I knew what I was getting into.

"I realize that not all Republicans are money-grubbing slime bags."

Bill Press, a liberal former talk-show host on MSNBC and CNN, says he married a woman more liberal than he is. But he says that falling in love with a Republican is "not only possible but a good idea because there's a possibility that the Republican will start to see the light. In other words, I'm all for mixed marriages. I still hold out hope for Mary Matalin."

Blair and Robb Watters's unlikely union proves that opposites really do attract.

She's a Democrat and he's a Republican, but their differences go much deeper: She is a 29-year-old San Diego, Calif., native who serves as the director of special projects for the House Democratic Caucus, chaired by Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). He is a 36-year-old Richmond, Va., native who recently opened his own lobbying shop - _The Madison Group LLC - after spending years working at a law firm and as an aide to Republican members of Congress.

She grew up rollerblading, and he grew up pheasant hunting. "We are from such cultural differences that the political differences are just laughable to begin with," Robb says. The couple met in 1999 when Robb was lobbying Blair, who worked for Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.) at the time, in support of the spam bill.

"He took me out to dinner three nights in a row," Blair says. By the third night, she adds, "I couldn't figure out if he was still lobbying."

The pair hit it off, despite their ideological differences, and married in 2002. Almost five years after their initial encounter, the Watterses still playfully banter about who's right and who's wrong. Although they occasionally "get riled up" during a political debate, the Watterses have found a way to avoid major fights over politics.

Their secret: agree to disagree.

Subjects like prescription-drug benefits and taxes are areas of fundamental disagreement and are therefore off-limits. Subjects they apparently agree on include abortion and gun control. "We hashed those issues out a long time ago," Blair says.

"We try and not argue about politics," counters Robb.

Nevertheless, Robb proves that he loves his wife more than he loves his politics when he coos, "I'd vote for you, sweetie."

And Blair admits that being married to a Republican is not all bad.

"It helps your side when you know what the other side is thinking," she says. "It helps to know what Republicans care about."

Blair even admits that some of her husband's Republican ways have worn off on her.

"Robb and I go hunting together," she says. "He bought me a gun."

Indeed, Blair has become a skilled pheasant hunter since she crossed party lines - Robb says she killed three birds on her first outing.

Perhaps the Watterses' biggest dispute could be the political affiliation of their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Max. Robb holds steadfast that Max is a Republican - after all, he claims, Max "is very big on property rights" and he loves SUVs and hunting.

Blair scoffs and insists that dogs can't be Republicans.