Skiing With a Kerry Surrogate

Chris Heinz at Waterville Valley

Chris Heinz, my Thursday skiing companion, is so much like his stepfather, John Kerry, that I kept forgetting they’re not related by blood. (Chris’ father, moderate Republican Pennsylvania Sen. John Heinz, died in 1991; his mother, Teresa Heinz, married Kerry in 1995).

Chris and Kerry went to the same schools (St. Paul’s, Yale); they’re both jocks (downhill skiing and lacrosse for Chris) with a somewhat goofy sense of humor; and they share a fascination with politics and the Vietnam War, which was the subject of Chris’ undergraduate thesis. What’s more, they look alike—both big guys with helmets of unruly hair and a chiseled Mount Rushmore visage.

Chris met me at my hotel in Concord and mentioned that St. Paul’s Academy was just up the street, so we stopped for a quick tour of the campus on our way to the White Mountains. The place has intense associations for him. He pointed out the building where he got the letter that told him he’d been admitted to Yale—and the building where, half an hour later, he was told that his father had been killed in a plane crash.

After graduating from college, Chris worked as a ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho. After Harvard Business School, he worked for a financial advisory firm in New York. He’s now 30. For the past year, he’s been full-time on the campaign—first in the finance office but lately on the road, doing “surrogate” work for the man he calls “JK.” He lives in New York—about five blocks from me, as it happens—but these days mostly lives out of a suitcase and his rental car.

Our destination was Waterville Valley, where I have fond memories of skiing on New Hampshire primary day 2000 with Stuart Stevens, one of George W. Bush’s media advisers. Just as we set off, Stuart got a call with the surprise news that John McCain was up substantially in the early exit polls. As he got more and more worked up, he skied faster and faster—and Stu is a very serious cross-country skier. My memory is of him flying through the woods yelling, “We’re going to get that phony!” with me in sweaty pursuit. “This stops in South Carolina!” Stu recounts his own version of the expedition in his 2001 book The Big Enchilada.

Given Chris’ skiing expertise—he raced downhill at prep school—I thought I was in for another chase. Luckily, he had only done about as much skating on skis as I had, and our paces proved compatible (or perhaps he was skiing very politely). A wrong turn or two had us on a seemingly endless uphill climb. As we panted our way up, Chris told me about his experiences on the campaign. He’s been organizing campus events and spent much of his time in Iowa riding around with some pro-Kerry celebrities, including the actor Steve Buscemi and Max Weinberg of the E Street Band. Chris seems to have discovered a passion for the family business. Whether or not Kerry gets elected, I expect Chris will run for office someday—quite possibly for a congressional seat in Pennsylvania, where the Heinz name still means a great deal.

The press watches the New Hampshire debate

The youngest of three Heinz brothers, Chris identifies strongly with his stepfather and seems to be taking the campaign even more personally than you might expect. He told me he was too nervous to sleep in advance of Thursday night’s debate. He knew he would find it too agonizing to watch, and so he was planning to drive to Boston to meet some friends for dinner instead of watching it live. In the event, Kerry did very well in what proved a very dull event, which I took in from the press filing center with a couple of hundred other journalists.

Chris Heinz on the way down

When we finally reached the summit of what turned out to be a downhill slope, Chris let out a whoop resembling the Dean “scream.” We then confronted the issue of getting ourselves down the mountain with cross-country ski equipment. I’ve done this before, and it isn’t pretty—there’s no way to control your descent or slow down, and you basically have to make yourself fall to avoid becoming a human projectile hurtling out of control. We each tasted the snow at least half a dozen times and were well coated by the time we reached the bottom.

This brings my New Hampshire trip to an end. I did not get to do a few things I hoped to do, including skiing to an actual political event (not enough snow) and seeing Howard Dean in person. But as compared to a week ago, I feel in better shape, both physically and in my understanding of the Democratic field. For what it’s worth, I think it’s all over for Dean but the shouting. The nomination is Kerry’s to lose—possibly to John Edwards, less possibly to Wesley Clark, who despite much improvement is not yet a top-caliber candidate. But don’t just take it from me. Come to beautiful New Hampshire this weekend and ski it for yourself.