Candidates' Kids Step Into Media Spotlight

Many of the adult children of the 2008 presidential candidates have become important figures in the campaigns of their parents, taking on a much more political role and stepping much further into the media spotlight than posing for the ubiquitous family photo-op.

Sarah Huckabee, 25, stars in her own YouTube video, and second-year Harvard law student Cate Edwards, 25, is a regular on the campaign speaking circuit. Meghan McCain, 23, has launched her own blog musing about politics and fashion; while former Criag Romney, one of former Gov. Mitt Romney's five sons has launched a Spanish-speaking ad for his father in Florida.

"Children who are in their 20s on a campaign are perceived to be attractive personalities who may make a candidate look younger and more appealing to younger voters," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and a former media critic. "And campaigns exploit that."

'Chelsea Grew Up'

Press-shy Chelsea Clinton, 27, stepped out of her very private life as a hedge fund manager in New York last December to begin campaigning for her mother in Iowa in an effort to help her mother combat Sen. Barack Obama and his star-studded entourage, which includes Oprah Winfrey.

Media interest is high in the woman who, if her mother wins the presidency, will have the historic position of being first-daughter -- twice over.

Today Chelsea Clinton is visiting college students in Charleston, South Carolina -- the state with the next up Democratic primary on Saturday. The Clinton campaign has dangled the promise of media access to to the mysterious former first daughter, offering to let a television network news "pool" camera follow her around as she canvasses college students.

However, as usual, the Clinton campaign has made the ground rules known: Chelsea Clinton does not take questions from the press. She even rebuffed a 9-year-old "kid reporter" from Scholastic News in Iowa who asked her what she thought her father would be like as first spouse.

Those close to Chelsea Clinton say it's her decision to remain a safe distance from the press, reported ABC News' Kate Snow, who was allowed rare access to Chelsea last week as she campaigned for her mother in Nevada, visting college students and urging people to vote for her mother.

'Have it Both Ways'

But as she takes on an increasingly political role in her mother's presidential campaign, some wonder whether the rules that once applied to Chelsea, the White House youngster, should still apply to a woman who is almost 28-years old and who has begun to publicly engage voters on policy questions.

"The Clintons are actually trying to have it both ways by restricting access to her and by having her be a significant campaign presence," said Rosenstiel.

"Chelsea grew up; she's now injecting herself into the campaign," Rosenstiel said.

While the vast majority of media have kept a respectful distance from Chelsea, Rosenstiel argues adult children who play political roles may invite more media scrutiny.

"If they are becoming political actors, they need to be treated as such by the media," he said.

"If Chelsea Clinton does something that makes her political and helps her campaign that is more active than simply posing for a picture," he said, "then the press needs to avoid being manipulated and being simply a passive conduit for whatever images the campaign is promoting."

McCain's Blogette

Other candidates' kids are more open in answering questions about who they are.

The very fashionable and very blond daughter of Sen. John McCain, Meghan, a 23-year-old Columbia University graduate, launched her own blog -- unaffiliated with the campaign -- that deals with everything from her fascination with fashion to what it felt like to see her dad win in South Carolina.

On fashion she blogs: "I love that (entertainment reporter Maria Menounos' blog) included my obsession with Dita Von Teese and Chloe Sevigney (one of my biggest dreams would be to raid their wardrobes)."

She also delves into the political from time to time in a way that may earn her father, 72, credibility with younger voters.

She once called Sen. Barack Obama "cute," and wrote this about her father's S.C. win: "Anyone who wants to know should listen to U2's song "Elevation" to understand what it felt like last night."

Matt Romney, 36, the second-oldest of former Gov. Mitt Romney's five sons, points to the "Five Brothers" blog as a way Romney's sons are connecting with voters.

And Craig Romney, who speaks Spanish, put out a Spanish-language ad in Miami this week, urging Hispanic voters in Florida to vote for him on Jan.29.

But with the increased public role, comes increased media attention.

The Romney sons' $100 million trust fund has been bandied about on Internet blogs, and pundits have speculated about what the Romney sons really think about their father pouring $16.8 million of his personal wealth into his campaign.

"I don't ever expect to see any of that anyways. I don't think any of us kids are counting on that money," Matt Romney told ABC News. "If my dad decides to use the money he's made, than we support him."

Matt Romney, a commercial realtor who lives with his wife and four sons in San Diego, said he and his brothers helped to convince their father to run for president.

"We knew what it meant, and we wanted to let him know that we're all in this together."

At 45, Rand Paul, an eye surgeon, is perhaps the oldest child of a candidate to take on a public role. He has been speaking on behalf of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, across the country.

"I've been listening to his speeches since I was 10, so I figure I've got it down pretty well," he joked.

Rand Paul said he would do his part to raise awareness for his father's campaign on primary day in South Carolina, by agreeing to ride with his two sons on the Ron Paul Blimp over Columbia.

Degree of Privacy

But not all of the candidates' children produce favorable headlines.

At 17, Caroline Giuliani, daughter of Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, got unwanted media attention when it came out that she had joined a Facebook support group for Obama.

The former mayor's strained relationship with his son, Andrew, who is in his 20s, has also garnered headlines in an election when so many of the campaigns highight the candidates' children as speaking surrogates and fundraisers.

The former mayor has told the media and the public at campaign events that his children are off limits.

"I think children in situations like this deserve to have the maximum degree of privacy," Giuliani told ABC News' Jake Tapper in the summer. "And the best way to preserve that is -- except to point out that you love them and care about them and you're very, very proud of them -- just don't comment about it," Giuliani said.

Rosenstiel argues the media largely respects the privacy of children who shy away from the media spotlight.

"They are not going to scrutinize these people the way they would a candidate or someone who was acting in a more political role," he said.

He points to first daughter Barbara Bush, the twin sister of Jenna Bush, who has grabbed far fewer headlines than her sister, in part because Jenna went on a press tour to promote her book about AIDS.

But many of the candidates' children in this election have taken on political roles.

Sarah Huckabee is campaigning with her father this week, and is his national field director.

"I've got the best job in the world," she says on a YouTube video circulating on the Internet. "I get to travel with my dad and call it work."

Cate Edwards, who has scaled back her law studies to campaign for her father, former Sen. John Edwards, says it's easier the second time around.

"Four years ago, I had basically no public speaking skills," she told ABC News' Raelyn Johnson. "You just want to be yourself, and that was very hard for me."

Now she said she feels comfortable enough to speak alone at events, and is keeping a diary to remember everything that happens.

"This is an incredible experience and you just want to absorb, as much as you can."

ABC News Kate Snow, Eloise Harper, Jake Tapper, Raelyn Johnson, Kevin Chupka, Bret Hovell, Z. Byron Wolf and Matt Stuart contributed reporting.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 4170204. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 4170204. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 4170204. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 4170204. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 4170204. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 4170204. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 4170204.
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...