Election 2008

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Bristol Palin and her boyfriend Levi Johnston attend the Republican National Convention.
Sarah Palin informed reporters on September 1 that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is
five months pregnant.

Candidates' Kids Often on the Defensive in the Spotlight

September 23, 2008 11:50 AM
by Christopher Coats
A recent spate of headlines focusing on the behavior of candidates’ children has reignited a familiar debate about their role and impact on political elections.

Campaign Kids and the Limelight

With behavior ranging from the arguably controversial to the plainly illegal, candidates’ children often become the focus of a campaign’s coverage, putting local, state and national politicians on the defensive about actions of their family.

Frequently, these events serve to shift the campaign’s debate to personal rather than policy matters.

Coming in the midst of his bid for a seventh congressional term, Florida’s Allen Boyd was faced with news that his 30-year-old son had been arrested for trying to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Arizona border.

In Colorado, congressional candidate Bob Schaffer, who is running for one of the state’s Senate seats, saw his son cast into the spotlight after his Facebook account was found to host a number of examples of racially offensive language.

Earlier this month, the John McCain campaign seized on allegations that Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, had lobbied on behalf of the banking and credit industry—a slight in a week that saw a spotlight cast on the mishandling of the financial industry.

Biden has responded that the charge is untrue.

While cases of inappropriate behavior on the part of adults are frequent, instances of arguably controversial behavior on the part of minor children, still in the guardianship of their parents, have also become the focus of campaign coverage.

Emerging in news reports just days after it was announced that her mother would be joining John McCain’s ticket, 17-year-old Bristol Palin’s pregnancy became a national headline, with pundits debating whether and how it reflected on the candidate.
Scrutiny of a candidate’s child is not always relegated to members of the media or the opposing party.

Early in the Republican primary, John McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain found herself the target of members of her own party, as conservative commentator Michelle Malkin led a protest against the  Ariz. senator's daughter’s choice of a keffiyeh scarf; an accessory Malkin equated with Middle East terrorism.

These cases have often forced candidates into a balancing act of sorts, with those aspiring to higher office attempting to show a healthy and complete family to the voting public, while simultaneously shielding their children from the election's intense media examination.

Opinion & Analysis: Significance in Election ’08

This tight rope act has become increasingly difficult to master this election year as more and more children of candidates have become active and often vocal members of their parent’s campaigns.

With few exceptions, Election 2008 has seen most observers and involved parties demand that children and families as a whole remain off limits to questioning and scrutiny.

While the effectiveness of the protest remains unclear, so too does the behavior of a child on a candidate’s actual performance. Historically, there is no indication that the behavior of a child has any noticeable effect on the outcome of an election.

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