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Sen. Mark Pryor likes to tell voters that he always puts Arkansas first, borrowing the campaign slogan associated with his family for decades. In Wyoming, Liz Cheney bets that her famous father’s name will be gold in her Senate race. And in Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu counts on her kin’s New Orleans ties to help lift her to re-election in a tough race.
Family does matter in the runup to next fall’s Senate elections: Candidates are wielding famous political pedigrees in a number of races that could determine whether Democrats maintain control in the 2014 elections.
Famous last names mean automatic name recognition and, typically, an easier time raising money. Beyond that, and 15 months before Election Day, it’s unclear whether family ties will translate into votes next fall.
For several Democrats, their deep family roots in conservative-leaning states could help them make the case that they are in touch with local values and act in constituents’ best interests as they seek to rebut Republican arguments that they are nothing more than rubber stamps for President Barack Obama’s policies. Yet, with congressional approval ratings dipping to record lows, a political pedigree also could turn into a liability if voters decide they’d rather have some new blood in the Senate.
History is filled with famous political families with national images — the Kennedys, Rockefellers and Bushes are among them — and there are similar political dynasties in individual states across the nation.
This year, family ties figure prominently in Arkansas, where Pryor’s father, David, served the state as governor and U.S. senator, and in Louisiana, where Landrieu’s father, Moon, was New Orleans’ mayor during the 1970s and her brother, Mitch, now leads the city. In Wyoming, former Vice President Dick Cheney‘s eldest daughter has galvanized the state’s political scene by seeking the seat of Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican favored by his party’s establishment.
In the cases of Pryor and Landrieu, Republicans say voters are savvy enough to judge sitting senators on their performance rather than their pedigree.
“Name ID has helped Landrieu and Pryor during their careers, but they are pretty far along into their own careers now and they have a voting record,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist and former aide to the National Senatorial Campaign Committee.
John Anzalone, an Alabama-based Democratic pollster, counters that it will be more difficult for Republicans to attach the Democratic incumbents to Obama next year because the president will not be on the ballot. He said many children of prominent politicians, especially in places less favorable to Democrats, have been successful by sticking to the mold of their parents — not the party’s leader.
“There’s always this need to distinguish yourself, that you’re not part of the national party cabal,” Anzalone said.
Thomas reported from Washington.
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