The 2014 midterm election cycle is slowly shaping up to be the “year of the family business”—at least on the Democratic side. Several first-time candidates are contemplating, or in some cases declaring, their intentions to continue what other members of their family have already accomplished—running successfully for public office. But will their family name help or hurt novice pols to establish their own political identities?
Occasionally placed on vice presidential short lists in campaigns past, former Sen. Sam Nunn left Washington in 1997 with a lack of “zest” and “enthusiasm, telling the New York Times “there has been a habit in Washington of staying sometimes until you’re called back by the grim voter or the Grim Reaper. I do not choose to do either,” he said.
Sixteen years later another Nunn wants to come back to the beltway to launch a political career of her own. Michelle Nunn, the Georgia Democrat’s daughter, could be gunning for her dad’s old seat in 2014. But while Democrats are coalescing, Republicans are already on the attack against Nunn.
“Michelle Nunn has kept her views relatively quiet, and that’s because she supports Obamacare which will raise healthcare costs for women, she supports raising taxes which will hurt workers, and she supports increasing the size of government which will create even more red tape and costs for farmers,” said Brad Dayspring, the top spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“Michelle Nunn is more in the political mold of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama than Sam Nunn or John Barrow—which is why Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed preferred other candidates,” he said.
Nunn remains one of the Democrat’s most desired recruits and the Georgia senate race “is shaping up to host a test case for Democrats intent on one day making Georgia routinely competitive in statewide races,” Roll Call reported. National Democrats believe the GOP’s early attacks on Nunn are proof that they fear her candidacy and believe the seat could in fact be in play this cycle.
“National Republicans are so terrified of the possibility of a Michelle Nunn candidacy that they are already misleading the public about her and her record,” said Matt Canter, Dayspring’s rival at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The divisive Tea Party primary and the demographic changes in Georgia, make this seat one of the best pick up opportunities for Democrats this cycle,” he said.
While the Georgia Senate race continues to take shape, one of the more competitive Democratic Primaries of the cycle is formulating in Illinois where incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Quinn is the second-least-popular governor in America who is up for re-election next year, according to polling compiled by The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog.
Quinn’s facing a competitive primary from two seasoned veterans. Lisa Madigan, the state’s popular attorney general and daughter of Democratic kingmaker and House Speaker Michael Madigan, is considering a bid of her own. Another political family dynasty threatens to overtake both Houses of Quinn and Madigan in the fight for the Governor’s chair in former Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who has launched an exploratory committee for a run.
Daley is the son of the powerful and popular Mayor Richard Daley, who ruled Chicago politics for more than 20 years. Daley is also brother to Mayor Richard Daley, Jr., who was in office from 1989 to 2011. Daley himself is a shrewd political operator and was recruited in 2000 to take over Al Gore’s presidential campaign following the departure of Tony Coelho. Democrats fear Daley’s stints at Amalgamated Bank and JP Morgan Chase will turn him into the party’s own Mitt Romney.
Madigan, 46, one of the popular figures in Illinois, disappointed state and national Democrats in 2010 when she decided against a senate run. Many believe Daley, frustrated by Madigan’s indecision again, jumped into the race to force her hand.
“It’s a little bit of playing chicken with Madigan,” said Eric Adelstein, a Chicago Democratic consultant. “Democrats have been looking for an alternative to Quinn and she hasn’t made up her mind, so Daley decided that he would be the alternative.”
It’s still unclear whether a three-way battle will ever truly form in this race. Madigan is the ideal candidate at a time when Democrats only have one female governor, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan. Madigan has demonstrated powerful fundraising skills and progressive women’s groups like Emily’s List would be eager to lend support to her potential candidacy.
“I have a hard time believing that all three of them will be in this race,” Adelstein said. “The only question that remains is which combination of the two of them will face off?”
Gwen Graham, another child of a beloved political star, former Florida Governor Bob Graham, is running for Congress. Graham is challenging imcumbent Rep. Steve Southerland in the Sunshine State’s 2nd Congressional District. She’s considered to be a top-tier candidate by the DCCC, which is providing financial, communication, operational, and strategic support to her campaign.
“Being a Graham Democrat in this region of the state is an asset to her,” said Steve Schale, her campaign adviser. “She has the Graham sensibility instilled in her from Governor and Senator Graham, wholly committed to public service, but also putting the interest of the country above partisanship.” he said.
Senator Graham himself plays the role that any child would want their parent to play – to be supportive in every way she would like him to be. He brings invaluable perspective and counsel to her campaign and is considered to be an asset for the candidate and her staff.
“I’m very proud of her,” the former Senator said. “She’s a much a much better first time candidate than I ever was and she’s going to be great Representative for the people of the 2nd district,” he said.
2014 will be a test for these children of such accomplished and beloved figures in their respective home states. They will step outside of their father’s shadows for the first time and be judged by many voters who have cast ballots for and against their parents, but also a newer generation, unfamiliar with the magic that name used to hold. Time will tell whether the family name can once again capture the hearts and minds of the electorate.
“The common thread between these candidates is the simple fact that when their parents were in office, government worked. Right now, they’re all seeing dysfunction and chaos on an unprecedented level,” said one national Democratic strategist. “They grew up watching problems get solved and want to do the same.”