2014: Political Dynasties Defeated

Lost amongst the scattered debris of the Democratic midterm disaster is another phenomenon: the widespread rejection of dynastic politicians. Four of the five defeated Democratic Senators (assuming a runoff loss by Louisiana’s Landrieu) belong to families whose famous last names paved the way for a cakewalk entry into high political office.

Dick Morris 3

Arkansas’ Mark Pryor is the son of David Pryor, former governor and senator. Colorado’s Mark Udall’s father was Morris “Mo” Udall, former congressman, presidential candidate, and brother of Congressman and Kennedy Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall. Mary Landrieu’s father, Moon Landrieu was the legendary mayor of New Orleans. Mark Begich’s father was Alaska Congressman Nick Begich. Together with the retirement of Jay Rockefeller, five scions of famous families are leaving the Senate. That only leaves four legacy Senators: Bob Casey, D-Pa., Mark Udall’s cousin Steve, D-N.M., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

With both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush lining up as possible 2016 presidential contenders, the reasons for the obliteration of the current generation of dynasties becomes important.

Perhaps the biggest problem that the four defeated dynasties carried into their re-election campaign is that they were initially propelled into office almost solely by their name. Few Arkansans knew much about Mark Pryor when he was elected. His record as attorney general was minimal and he was primarily known as the kind of moderate, middle-of-the-road, reliable political figure his father had been -good ol’ David’s boy. Now, exposed to the glare of a multi-million dollar national race, his limited abilities became apparent when he couldn’t answer a question about what he through of the president’s Ebola policy. His values became questionable when his 1985 undergraduate thesis was unearthed, asserting that the use of federal troops to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957 was an “unwilling invasion.” Without a strong personal image, he had no weapons to counter the negatives.

Similarly, Mark Udall’s election as senator from Colorado was in the green shadow of his father and uncle’s record at Interior. Fitting neatly into the Democratic environmental groove, he won easily. But, up for re-election, his overly aggressive focus on the Republican “war on women” led many to see him as manipulative and one-dimensional.

Mary Landrieu had never been under the pressure she found in 2014. Elected three times as the uniquely Louisianan daughter of Moon Landrieu, she avoided being pigeonholed into her party’s liberal wing. But voters judged her harshly this time. Her lack of a real Louisiana residence and the focus on Obama’s delay of the Keystone pipeline became big negatives. Her support of the president’s immigration policies and loyalty to Harry Reid made voters see, for the first time, who she really is. And her characterization of Louisiana voters as particularly hard on black and female candidates has made her defeat in the runoff a virtual certainty.

As voters learn who these senators are, they also learn how much they are unlike their fathers. Mark Pryor was faulted for lacking his Dad’s intimate bonding with the state. Mark Udall seemed to lack his Dad’s adventurous passion. Neither Landrieu nor Begish had their fathers’ non-partisan identification with their state’s roots and past.

Will Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, two dynastic possible presidential contenders, survive the current distaste for political relatives? Will Hillary’s lack of Bill’s economic clarity and wisdom hurt her? Or his touch at making friends and charming adversaries by finding common ground? Is her limited creativity more obvious when compared with Bill’s?

Does Jeb Bush have the experienced hand at foreign policy of his father? Or W’s facility for instant intimacy?

As we learn who the sons or daughters of famous names are, we also learn what they are not and the knowledge often strips them of their potential appeal.

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