Election 2008

Associated Press
Tom and Mark Udall (L-R)

Political Families: Dynasties Past and Present

October 09, 2008 04:53 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
For some individuals, running for Congress is a family affair.

Cousins Pursuing the Senate

This year, three men seeking election to the United States Senate have a little more in common than a liking for public office. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., are first cousins, and their second cousin is Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who is running for re-election in his state.

Each man’s father also served in Washington, giving this family a political legacy that has led them to be called the “Kennedys of the West,” reports U.S. News & World Report. Mark Udall’s father, Morris, ran for president in 1976 and served in the House of Representatives. Morris’ brother Stewart, Tom’s father, was a U.S. representative and ran the Department of the Interior. As for Sen. Smith’s father, he served as an Agriculture Department official for President Dwight Eisenhower.

Whether the three cousins will all make it to the Senate is questionable. In Oregon, Smith is being challenged by Jeff Merkley, the Democratic speaker of the Oregon House. In Colorado, some have declared the race a toss-up, while others believe Mark Udall will beat Republican Bob Schaffer. New Mexico is favoring Tom Udall.

Historical Context: The Adamses and the Kennedys

The Adamses
The Adams family is considered the first political dynasty of the United States. John Adams was the country’s vice president under George Washington, and its second president. His son, John Quincy, was secretary of state, a congressman and the sixth president. Two more generations of Adamses were well-known in the political world. John Quincy’s son, Charles Francis, was nominated to be the vice presidential candidate for the Free Soil Party. Charles’ son, Henry, was a political journalist.

The Kennedys
Another American family with a long political legacy is the Kennedys. “The rule used to be that as soon as someone named Kennedy let it be known that he was testing the political waters, they parted,” Karen Tumulty of Time Magazine once wrote about the family. “The media anointed him the front runner, the competition scattered, and the campaign dollars rolled in.” The family has been held positions from state legislatures up to the presidency.

Related Topic: More family connections

In 2006, the United States saw an abundance of relatives working together in Congress, including Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar, Democratic brothers from Colorado, and Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican brothers from Florida. Another family, New Jersey’s Frelinghuysens, have been in Congress for generations. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., can trace his political heritage back to his great-great-great-great-grandfather, who was part of the 1779 Continental Congress.

Democratic Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez of California are the country’s first sisters in Congress. Linda is presently serving her third term in the House of Representatives, and is chair of a House Judiciary subcommittee. Loretta is serving her sixth term in the House of Representatives and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. The two may not be together in Washington for long, however. According to the Associated Press, Loretta has considered running for governor of California in 2010.

Opinion and Analysis: Families in politics

There are several factors that allow a family to develop staying power in politics, writes the author of “America's First Dynasty,” Richard Brookhiser. “Political families pass on inclination, as well as opportunity: The founding pols give their children prominence and contacts, while the talk around the dinner table, and the family pictures on the wall or in the scrapbooks, provide inspiration and example.”

According to USA Today, the familiarity of a family name is also a comforting quality for voters. Gaining notoriety takes less time for a politician and, as Stephen Hess, author of “America’s Political Dynasties,” explained, “people get comfortable with the product.”

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