The Bidens, and six other political dynasties in the making

Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, returned from Iraq Wednesday. He's tipped to run for the US Senate. Several other political families also have members eyeing 2010.

Mel Evans/AP
Army National Guard Capt. Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, hugs wife Hallie as he arrives with fellow troops from a tour in Irag at Fort Dix, N.J. on Sept. 25.

Vice President Joe Biden's son, Beau, returned home from a year in Iraq with his National Guard unit Wednesday to renewed speculation that he will seek the Senate seat his father held.

If he enters the race, he wouldn't be the only prospect for extending a political dynasty on Capitol Hill or in statehouses these days.

The lines of succession may not be as centrally planned as the strategy Joseph Kennedy worked out for his three sons who served in the US Senate and won or sought the presidency. Not all members of political families are even on good speaking terms. Moreover, the family name that’s a plus for some voters can be a stigma for others.

But name recognition goes a long way in politics, and every election cycle brings a crop of recycled names. Here are some of the most prominent in Campaign 2010:

Nevada’s Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, son of Senate majority leader Harry Reid, has had a campaign manager on staff since May for a gubernatorial run in November 2010.

• Physician and libertarian activist Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul (T) of Texas, is also cribbing from his father’s playbook in his own 2010 race for a Kentucky seat in the US Senate. With the help of Ron Paul’s signature “moneybomb,” Rand Paul raised $436,450 in 24 hours over the Internet in August – a record in Kentucky politics. “Let’s see what he does with it. Right now, nobody has any idea who he is,” says Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the Cook Political Report.

• Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan heads into her 2010 US Senate race with a family name that’s been a fixture in Missouri politics for three generations. Her mother, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to the US Senate seat won by her father, two-term Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was killed in a plane crash during the campaign and elected posthumously. Her brother, three-term Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) of Missouri, has four terms to go to match the record of their grandfather, Rep. A. S. J. Carnahan (D).

• Her likely opponent, seven-term US Rep. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri, heads another prominent political family in the state. His son, Gov. Matt Blunt, stepped down after one term in 2008.

• Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) of Florida, who is running for an open Senate seat in 2010, was elected to the House unopposed in 2002, after his mother, five-term Rep. Carrie Meek, announced her retirement, just two weeks before the filing deadline.

Tennessee lawyer and businessman Mike McWherter is taking a run at the governor’s mansion, where his father, Gov. Ned McWherter, served from 1987 to 1995. His campaign website promises that “Mike will follow the examples of his father, former Governor Ned McWherter, and Governor Phil Bredesen by standing up for working families and applying his common-sense business experience to State Government.”

Family ties not always helpful

Being a son or a daughter of a prominent politician does not always make someone a shoo-in. “Some famous names don’t last for long,” says Senate historian Donald Ritchie.

Franklin Roosevelt Jr. served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1955, but lost his bid to be the Democratic
Party’s nominee for New York governor. And when House majority leader Richard Armey (R) of Texas announced his retirement in 2002, his son, Scott lost his primary election bid to replace him.

“There’s historical precedent for family dynasties going back to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, but what you have now that you didn’t have decades ago is personal campaign organizations in place of standard party organizations,” says John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.

The Kennedy model

“The Kennedys pioneered an ongoing Kennedy organization – a loose network of supporters who can come together to form a campaign. A lot of politicians have that in some form or another, and it makes it easy to switch from father or mother to the son or to the daughter,” he adds.

Vice President Biden’s appearance today in Dover, Del., at the homecoming of the Army National Guard’s 261st Signal Brigade, including son Beau, may be been Act 1 in such a family transition.

Sen. Ted Kaufman (D) of Delaware, a longtime aide to Joe Biden and current holder of what was Biden's Senate seat, says he will not run in 2010.


Another Biden for Senate?

If Joseph "Beau" Biden III does run for the US Senate, he will start mostly with positives and some negative. Click here to read more about them.


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