Katie LaPotin, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, December 8, 2011
A candidate’s offspring can be a potent media weapon in the race for the White House. Meghan McCain and Chelsea Clinton, for instance, campaigned for their parents in person and online throughout the 2008 cycle.
Political kids can help personalize their famous parents or defend them against attacks. Think Clinton telling a Butler University student ahead of the Indiana primary, “I do not think that’s any of your business” when asked about her mother’s response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Or McCain providing a colorful, if sanitized, behind-the-scenes look at her father’s campaign for readers of her blog.
Their parents’ campaigns met with mixed success, but the political kids’ work as surrogates made them media starlets and helped Clinton and McCain transition from politics to high-profile jobs in journalism.
This cycle, Jon Huntsman’s daughters could walk that increasingly well-worn path from would-be first child to media star. The photogenic girls, Abby, Liddy and Mary Anne, and their husbands have the highest profiles in the 2012 GOP field – at least among political offspring. They frequently tweet away under the monikers @Jon2012girls and @Jon2012boys – and have attracted more than 17,500 followers between the two accounts.
The three girls, who range in age from 23-26, have certainly attracted attention, although not all of it positive. They made national headlines for their music video “Huntsman’s Back,” which was set to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack,” and their parody video of former presidential candidate Herman Cain’s “smoking” campaign ad.
But it remains to be seen if the girls’ online antics can help their father gain momentum ahead of the New Hampshire primary, which he’s bet his political fortune on winning.
Back in 2008, Mitt Romney’s five sons were a large part of their dad’s presidential campaign. Not only did they have their own blog, (appropriately titled “Five Brothers”) but they also frequently stumped for their dad in early primary states. While they did help personalize their notoriously button-down father, they also became somewhat of a liability ahead of the Iowa caucuses when the media focused on how none of the brothers had served in the military.
This cycle, the Romney boys have remained largely silent. The blog is no longer live on Romney’s campaign website and the brothers have only recently become a regular fixture on the campaign trail as the first nominating contest is now less than a month away.
Meanwhile, President Obama has worked to keep his daughters out of the media spotlight. And with Malia and Sasha Obama just beginning to enter their teenage years it is safe to say that they will not be the next political offspring to become campaign surrogates – at least during the 2012 cycle. But with campaigns becoming more personality centered and Web focused with each passing cycle, political children should expect to leave their footprints on the campaign trail.
Katie LaPotin is an account executive at Advocacy Ink, a full-service public relations, communications and political consulting firm in Alexandria, Va. Previously, she worked at a Republican polling firm and on several campaigns in southeastern Pennsylvania.