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Republican kids: When partisan politics stretch parent-child bonds

Republican kids and Democrat parents: the strains of partisan politics in Washington can be mimicked at home if a child comes home with different political views than Mom and Dad.

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"Whether you like it or not, this is his opinion," he said. "You've got to support your son or daughter, whatever their passion is. Vote for Wagner in 2040. That's when he's going to run for president. I told him when he gets to Washington, it would be nice if I got box seats to a Redskins game. If they played Buffalo, even better."

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LaGrone is chairman of the Nebraska College Republicans. His paternal grandmother was a Muskie delegate in Miami Beach in 1972 and once ran as a Democrat for the Colorado House of Representatives. His dad worked on her campaign. His stepsister is a teachers' union leader and his stepmother is a classic liberal.

His GOP turnaround came as a senior in high school. He was president of the Nebraska DECA, an organization for young people interested in business, when federal funding for the group dried up and he helped procure state funding to make up the shortfall.

"It opened my eyes to the importance of fiscal conservatism," LaGrone said.

He was 18 at the time. Before that, it was all about the family party.

"When I was in fourth grade, there was a mock election. I asked my parents who I was supposed to vote for and they both told me Al Gore. There was discussion around the home, but it just wasn't very in-depth and policy-driven," he said. "It was more, well, you vote for the Democrat because they're Democrat. I realized that I didn't agree with Democrats."

His dad was "shocked," he said. "A lot of times I think parents do just assume you'll be what they are." Grandparents, too.

LaGrone voted for the first time in 2008, around his birthday.

"My grandmother left me a message telling me happy birthday, and how disappointed she was in my choice — John McCain."

The question of politics falls right in with religion when it comes to tricky parenting, said Jim Fay, co-author of "Parenting Teens with Love & Logic."

What does he recommend parents do when sons and daughters announce political views in conflict with their own?

"It doesn't matter what the kid is talking about if you say, 'Oh, thanks for sharing that, I've always wondered how teenagers saw that.'"

Are most parents that open-minded? "I doubt it," Fay said.

Remember that guy Wagner's mom voted for in 1988? Michael Dukakis. Young Republican Alex P. Keaton and his liberal, ex-hippie parents were still on the air in "Family Ties," the popular NBC series punctuated by their political divide during the Reagan years.

Evan Draim, 17, wasn't alive in 1988. The high school senior from northern Virginia is the youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention. He told The Washington Post his political preference skips his parents' generation to his maternal grandparents — Hungarians who fled to America after World War II.

"I view it as my responsibility to give back to the country that has given them so much, and I want to make sure the American dream that helped my ancestors is there for future generations of immigrants and graduating students," Draim told the newspaper before the convention began.

As for Dukakis, he teaches now at Northeastern University and cares deeply about public service for young people. He worked on a new, free website, conventions.cps.neu.edu, intended as a nonpartisan call for high-schoolers and college students of any ilk.

How would the Democratic stalwart have felt if one of his three children — now grown — had taken a turn to the right, especially at an early age?

"I wouldn't have been happy, but I would have been happy that he or she was deeply and actively involved in public affairs and public life," he said.

Dukakis does have a son-in-law who is a moderate Republican: "But I love him dearly."

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