Media Darlings

How the Huntsman girls could be the next Meghan McCain or Chelsea Clinton…

Katie LaPotin, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, December 20, 2011

The offspring of presidential candidates are playing a larger, more public role in their parents’ 21st century campaigns. Some, including Meghan McCain and Chelsea Clinton, were even able to capitalize on their experiences and create lucrative media careers for themselves, or in the case of Rand Paul successfully run for political office. But what about this year’s campaign kids?

The ones with the most future media potential are Jon Huntsman’s three adult daughters, Liddy, Abby and Mary Anne. Tweeting collectively to their 17,000-plus followers under the moniker @Jon2012Girls, the three girls have essentially relocated to New Hampshire to stump for the former Utah governor. While the context of their tweets may focus on their father’s day-to-day campaign schedule, their witty, often pop culture-infused style has earned them so much media attention that, according to Business Insider, “they are starting to eclipse their father’s struggling campaign.”

The girls have also made appearances on CNN’s Out Front with Erin Burnett and MSNBC’s Now with Alex.  It hasn’t all been good press for Huntsman’s daughters, however, as their infamous YouTube videos have created more controversy than anything else. All in all the girls know that they are among their father’s strongest assets, and their star will continue to shine as long as their father’s campaign remains active.

GOP frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have also used their children to their benefit on the campaign trail. The former House speaker has relied heavily on his daughter Jackie Gingrich Cushman this year for both moral support and damage control. Cushman has used her weekly column with Creators Syndicate to defend her father’s personal life and “[set] the record straight” on her parents’ 1980 divorce. In recent weeks Cushman has also appeared on Talk Radio Network’s “America’s Morning News” and on Fox’s Atlanta affiliate defending her father against attacks on his personal life.

In 2008, Mitt Romney’s five sons were a constant presence on the campaign trail, crisscrossing Iowa’s 99 counties on the Mitt Mobile and detailing their journey in the campaign blog “Five Brothers.”  This cycle, however, Tagg, Matt, Josh, Craig, and Ben Romney have stayed largely under the radar – a casualty of their father’s slimmed down second attempt at the White House. The flack that Romney has received from the media for decreasing his sons’ roles in the campaign is likely the impetus behind eldest son Tagg’s expanded role on the campaign trail in recent weeks.

Not every candidate is quick to embrace flaunting his or her children as campaign surrogates. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) made headlines when she announced that she had fostered 23 children in addition to her own five kids, yet to this day none of her children have publicly campaigned for her. Rick Santorum’s seven children, who range in age from infancy to their early 20s, have also remained largely out of the spotlight despite having moved to Iowa over the summer to spend more time with their father. Their visibility may soon increase, though, as the family appeared together in Santorum’s first Iowa TV ad released on Friday.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether or not a candidate uses their offspring as surrogates, as long as they don’t hurt the campaign.

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.


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