The Kids Are All Right

Odds Favorable For Congressional Kin in ’04 Races

Posted February 3, 2004 at 5:56pm

In the last two months of 2003, former Florida state Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) banked more than $30,000 from the A-list of Capitol Hill contributors: 10 sitting Senators (most of them currently or formerly in the GOP leadership), former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and House Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio).

It is a take that most first-time House candidates — and even some sitting Members — can only dream about.

And, that’s not including the combined $8,000 his parents, former Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and his wife, Priscilla, contributed to his campaign.

The campaign cash that Mack was able to mine during two fundraising trips to Washington last fall is a luxury afforded to a select group of House candidates, most of whom, like Mack, have familiar-sounding names inside the Beltway.

Family legacies have been a part of the American political tradition since the nation’s founding, and almost all of those bloodlines have passed through the halls of Congress during one generation or another.

Although the children of Members have met mixed success in recent attempts to follow in their parents’ footsteps, the odds remain favorable for Congressional kin.

This year’s elections are no exception.

While their surnames aren’t yet tantamount to Kennedy, Rockefeller or Bush, Mack, Ed Broyhill, Dan Boren, Russ Carnahan and Brad Smith are hoping to emulate the successes of the political legacies that have gone before them.

The five men are seeking open House seats in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida and Michigan, respectively. Four — Boren, Broyhill, Carnahan and Mack — are the sons of former Senators. Smith’s father, Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), is retiring at the end of this Congress and his son is running to replace him.

Boren, Broyhill and Mack are favored to win their respective primaries, a feat that would virtually assure all of them a seat in the 109th Congress.

Smith’s chances of winning a crowded GOP primary in Michigan’s 7th district are less clear. The attorney has never before sought elected office, and polling has shown that he is not well known in the district.

Still, his race has gotten more attention than any other in which a Congressional relative is running this cycle.

After the House’s infamous marathon vote on Medicare last November, accounts surfaced that Nick Smith had been promised financial assistance and other support for his son’s campaign in exchange for his support of the measure.

He later voted against the bill, but the Justice Department is now reviewing complaints from political watchdog groups after a newspaper columnist wrote that Smith was told business interests would donate $100,000 to his son’s campaign if he voted in favor of the bill — which would amount to a bribe.

The Congressman has since said that no specific reference to money was made by other lawmakers, and he has backpeddled from his initial assertion that “bribes and special deals were offered to convince Members to vote yes.”

But while the incident has brought a measure of unwanted attention to the younger Smith’s bid, other candidates are striving to publicize their Congressional ties.

Broyhill appears to be going to the greatest lengths to tout his political pedigree.

The 49-year-old businessman, running in a crowded GOP field for the seat being vacated by Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), has already hit the television airwaves with an ad featuring his father, former Sen. Jim Broyhill (R-N.C.).

The elder Broyhill served two decades in the House and one year in the Senate while his father, J.E. Broyhill, founded a furniture factory that made the family’s name synonymous with industry in western North Carolina. J.E. Broyhill is also credited with founding the state’s modern Republican Party.

All of these facts are highlighted on Ed Broyhill’s campaign Web site.

Broyhill’s biography page features separate photos of his family and his parents, while the slogan “A North Carolina Tradition” graces all of the site’s pages.

In addition to his father, Broyhill also has the support of the state’s only other living GOP ex-Senators — Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth.

In statements released by Broyhill’s campaign, Helms describes the candidate as “like a godson to me,” recalling that the then-teenager campaigned with him during his first Senate race in 1972.

Furthermore, former President Gerald Ford, who has never before endorsed in a contested primary, also signed a letter backing Broyhill.

“I’m breaking my 55-year tradition because North Carolina has an even more important tradition: the tradition of the Broyhills and the Republican Party,” wrote Ford, who served with Jim Broyhill in the House.

Built-In Advantages

The built-in advantages for Congressional candidates who are legacies are clear — higher name identification, an automatic fundraising base and typically the ability to win high-powered endorsements that wouldn’t otherwise be offered.

Mack, 36, is the leading candidate to replace retiring Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.). Last fall, he resigned his seat in the state Legislature and moved back to the district his father once represented in the House in order to run.

Mack raised $419,000 in 2003 and had $253,000 in the bank on Dec. 31. By comparison, Lee County Commissioner Andy Coy, one of the other Republicans seeking Goss’ seat, finished 2003 with $25,000 on hand.

Mack’s opponents have already signaled that they plan to make carpetbagging and fundraising an issue in the campaign.

“It’s important where the dollars come from,” Coy told a local newspaper late last year. “The more money he needs to raise outside the district and the more endorsements he needs to get outside the district proves that we are the local candidate.”

Although Boren recently moved inside the boundaries of Oklahoma’s 2nd district, residency and local ties are not likely to be a major issue in his campaign to succeed Rep. Brad Carson (D), who is running for Senate.

In a poll taken for his campaign early last month, Boren enjoyed a large double-digit lead over his two primary opponents, although 40 percent of those surveyed remain undecided.

If elected, Boren would be a third-generation Member of Congress. His late grandfather, Lyle Boren (D), represented portions of the 2nd district in the House in the late 1930s and ’40s.

His father, David Boren (D-Okla.), is a former state Representative, governor and three-term Senator, who resigned in 1994 to become president of the University of Oklahoma.

When the youngest Boren, a one-term state legislator who currently represents portions of the 2nd district, kicked off his Congressional bid last month, he said he was proud of his political heritage, but he also made a clear attempt to distinguish himself. Boren’s father did not appear with his son during the kick off of his announcement tour. Instead Boren traveled with former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh (D), his campaign chairman.

“I am very proud of my grandfather and father — and their service to the district,” he said in a statement. “And I have worked hard to establish my own personal record of experience and service.” 

Like Boren, Carnahan will also be a third-generation Member if he is elected to the next Congress. The 45-year-old state Representative is seeking the safely Democratic seat of Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), who had been running for president instead of re-election. Gephardt ended his run for president last month after placing fourth in the Iowa caucuses.

Russ Carnahan’s grandfather served in the House from 1949 to 1961 and was later the first U.S. ambassador to Sierra Leone. His father, the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D), was elected to the Senate posthumously in 2000, but his mother, now-former Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.), was appointed to serve in the seat. Jean Carnahan was defeated in her attempt to win the seat outright in 2002.

In the 3rd district race, Russ Carnahan has tapped into his family’s state and national financial network to lead the field in fundraising. He and state Sen. Steve Stoll (D) are seen as the frontrunners in the Aug. 3 primary.

But while Broyhill is aggressively touting family ties in his race, Carnahan’s campaign Web site simply includes his mother’s name among a laundry list of other endorsements.

The Historical Legacy

Political legacies aren’t passed exclusively from generation to generation. Just as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was elected to fill his brother’s Senate seat, businesswoman Mary Ose (R) is seeking the seat of her brother, retiring Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.), this year. The Ose name will be an advantage in a competitive three-candidate primary — the family runs several prominent real estate ventures in the Sacramento area — and Mary Ose is using her brother’s Capitol Hill chief of staff to guide her campaign.

Six current Senators are the children of former Senators, and there are many more legacies in the House.

Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were appointed to directly succeed their fathers. Murkowski was elevated to the Senate by her father, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R).

“There certainly have been plenty of dynasties,” said Don Ritchie, the Assistant Senate Historian, citing the LaFollettes of Wisconsin, the Frelinghuysens of New Jersey and, of course, the Kennedys of Massachusetts.

One of the longest running dynasties in Congress was the Breckinridge legacy in Kentucky.

Sen. John Breckinridge (R-Ky.) served in Congress from 1801 to 1805, followed at different points during the next two centuries by his brother, two grandsons, a great-grandson, a great-great-grandson and several cousins.

But as far as current Members’ legacies go, it is hard to top the political lineage of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), whose great-great-great-great-grandfather was a delegate to the Continental Congress and later a Senator.

The success of political dynasties, however, has been somewhat mixed in recent years.

Last cycle, now-Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) was the only son or daughter of a Member to successfully win a seat in Congress. He ran unopposed in the primary and general elections, after his mother, then-Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) announced her retirement two weeks before the state’s filing deadline.

In Texas, two other Congressional sons were less successful in 2002. Scott Armey and Brad Barton both lost in GOP contests.

Armey, who was vying to replace his father, then-Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), won a crowded primary by an 18-point margin and then was crushed in the runoff by now-Rep. Michael Burgess (R), a political newcomer.

Barton, meanwhile, failed to make the runoff in an eight-way GOP primary in the Lone Star State’s 31st district. His father, Rep. Joe Barton (R), represents the 6th district and formerly represented areas now in the 31st.

In the 2000 cycle, the children of former Reps. Tom Ewing (R-Ill.) and Pat Danner (D-Mo.) were unsuccessful in their attempts to succeed their parents.

At the same time, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) won the seat of his father, then-Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo.). His main primary opponent argued that the seat should not be inherited. To make the point that he was not running against the incumbent, he took out billboards that said “Congressman Bill Clay is retiring this year.”

It didn’t work.