Political Daughters Carry On The Family Name In Congress

Serving in Congress is increasingly a family business. NPR's political editor Charlie Mahtesian tells NPR's Rachel Martin that more daughters of politicians are following in their fathers' footsteps.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In today's Congress, political dynasties rule. If you totaled them up, there are nearly two dozen members of the House and Senate whose parents served, including some women. In the past, women most often came into office through the practice of widow succession. This is where the wife of a politician who had passed away ascends to his seat. But now we're seeing daughters running for office on their own. NPR's political editor, Charlie Mahtesian, offered up several examples.

CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: In Georgia, there's Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn. And she's running for an open Senate seat. And next door in Florida there's Gwen Graham, who people will know as the daughter of former senator and governor and presidential candidate Bob Graham. And Gwen Graham is seeking a House seat. And then if you look at Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes is taking on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And she is the daughter of a former state party chairman and state legislature. And that's just sort of the tip of the iceberg of who's running this year.

MARTIN: So how much of an asset is the family name?

MAHTESIAN: Well, it's a tremendous advantage because these candidates always begin with much more name recognition than their opponents. You also, if you're a daughter of a candidate, you begin with the fundraising rolodex of your parent. And we see them thriving also because so many of the daughters, and this is true of any of the children of politicians, so many of them have spent countless hours with their parents in the political arena. They have been mentored by the best in the business and they understand how the game works.

MARTIN: But does the family name ever backfire?

MAHTESIAN: It does occasionally. What you saw in Wyoming this year, that's a very good example, where Liz Cheney, who's the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, dropped out of the Senate race after a family division ended up effectively ending her candidacy. Because the Cheney family ended up going through this painful public split over Liz's position on gay marriage, since another Cheney daughter, Mary Cheney, was married to a woman.

MARTIN: But what does this say about who we are as a democratic society, Charlie? Is this the way it's supposed to be, that you get to run, and perhaps win, just because your dad did?

MAHTESIAN: Well, you'd think for a nation that was born in revolution that the idea of this heirloom congressional seat or state office would be something that we recoil at, but we really don't. In fact, we've got a couple hundred years of history of children of politicians ascending to power. And it's a real problem now, I think, and really a reflection of the role that big money plays in national politics because it tells you one thing, which is name recognition is really important and name recognition is really expensive. And so if your parents don't have a name that's recognized in politics, you begin at a huge disadvantage.

MARTIN: NPR's political editor, Charlie Mahtesian. Thanks so much, Charlie.

MAHTESIAN: Thanks, Rachel.

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