For all the talk of political “outsiders” beating the “establishment” in both parties during recent election cycles, one factor that remains consistent in 2014 is that political dynasties — sons, daughters, and grandchildren of established officeholders — are still going strong.
And more times than not, the candidate with the famous name wins.
“In very large democracies, voters know it is important to assess the character of candidates for office,” author Michael Barone, the father of “The Almanac of American Politics,” told Newsmax, “but as part of a very large mass, they don't know any of the candidates.
“So it helps if voters know the family and the character of former political leaders; they can make inferences from that about the character of their children or other relatives. This helps account for the fact that really large democracies — the United States, India, the Philippines, Indonesia — have recently chosen legacy candidates as their leaders.
“I think it helps to account for the legacy candidates we see today.”
Stephen Hess, author of “American Political Dynasties” agreed, pointing out that “taking over Dad’s business is as old as the state of Virginia. And when it comes to serving, legacy candidates are by and large one step above the ladder.
“But it does not guarantee success at all levels. FDR had two sons who served in the House of Representatives. But when each tried to win higher office, they were judged not up to that level and were defeated.”
A Bush, a Kennedy, and a Carter are all of the fourth generations of their respective families in elective office and will be competing on the ballot this November: Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D.-Massachusetts), son of a former House member from Massachusetts and grandson of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D.-New York), who is a cinch for a second term; George P. Bush, son of Florida’s former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush and grandson and nephew of two Republican presidents, seems assured of becoming Texas' land commissioner; and State Sen. Jason Carter, who is locked in a tight contest for his grandfather Jimmy’s old job as governor of Georgia with Republican incumbent Nathan Deal.
In a recent twist to the Georgia contest, the latest polls show neither Carter nor Deal making the required 50 percent of the vote-plus-one to be elected. A December runoff between the two may be forced by Libertarian nominee Andrew Hunt, a grandson of the late Texas billionaire H.L. Hunt.
“In conservative Southern states, it especially helps a Democrat if he is the son [Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, son of former Gov. and Sen. David Pryor] or the daughter [Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu and Georgia Senate nominee Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn] of a moderate former Democratic officeholder,” said Barone.
The same can be said about another presumably vulnerable Democratic senator in Alaska. Freshman Sen. Mark Begich is the son of the late Rep. Nick Begich (D.-Alaska), whose bright career was cut short when the small plane he was flying on disappeared in 1972 and was never found.
In Michigan, there is a fresh twist to the “dynastic order” found in other states. With Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan), the longest-serving U.S. Representative in history (60 years), retiring, wife Deborah looms large as his successor in the Dearborn-area district.
If elected, Mrs. Dingell, always called “the lovely Deborah,” would be the first woman in Congress to succeed her husband while he was alive. (Dingell first won the seat in a special election in 1954, succeeding his namesake-father who had held it since 1932).
Nevada is featuring a star-studded battle of the dynasties for the open office of state attorney general: Secretary of State Ross Miller, son of former Democratic Gov. Bob Miller, versus Republican attorney Adam Laxalt, grandson of former Gov. and Sen. Paul Laxalt (who was Ronald Reagan’s closest political friend and placed him in nomination for president at three national conventions).
Missouri’s Jay Ashcroft, son of former U.S. Attorney General (and Gov. and U.S. Sen.) John Ashcroft, is seeking a state Senate seat in suburban St. Louis.
Forty years after Rep. Larry Hogan lost the Republican primary for governor of Maryland after signaling he would vote on the House Judiciary Committee for the impeachment Richard Nixon, his son Larry Jr. is the GOP nominee for the governorship of the Free State.
Having a famous name, of course, is no guarantee of political success. Earlier this year, Mike Campbell, whose late father Carroll was a much-liked governor of South Carolina, lost the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.
The same is true for Clay Pell, namesake-grandson of the late and revered senator from Rhode Island, who placed third in the Democratic primary for governor of Little Rhody.
"Just turn on PBS’s ‘The Roosevelts’ series this week to witness another reminder the country's love affair with political dynasties,” said historian David Pietrusza, author of three best-selling books on presidential elections. “And it wasn't just TR and FDR running for office but their offspring as well.
“Whether it’s Clintons, Cuomos, Romneys or Bushes, branding counts — not only in selling soda pop and athletic wear, but in selling candidates. Hopefully we will escape a Kardashian dynasty."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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