As the shadows lengthened across Phelps Grove Park and the aroma of barbecued ribs wafted through the trees, Roy Blunt glad-handed his way through the Greene County Republican Party's big pre-primary picnic, just as he has done before every big election since 1972, the year before he won an appointment to his first political office.
That was more than a decade before Lucas Case was born. But the 22-year-old theater manager from nearby Branson is volunteering to help make his longtime congressman Missouri's next senator in what he sees as an epic race between "two political dynasties."
A day later in a St. Louis suburb, Democrat Robin Carnahan climbed atop a pickup to deliver a stump speech — just as her grandfather, both parents and her brother did before her. "This is what we talked about around the kitchen table, politics and public service," former U.S. senator Jean Carnahan, Robin's mother, said about her children's affinity for campaigning. "It's just second nature to them."
Blunt and Robin Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of State, have two of the best-known last names in the state and are heavy favorites today to win their party's nominations for the U.S. Senate. Their much-anticipated November showdown is a battle between two families that represent generations of political power.
It's also proof that political brand names still rule, even in a nation that constitutionally bans inherited power — "no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States," reads Article I, section 9 — and in a year when the "Tea Party" movement is challenging the political establishment.
A 14-year U.S. House veteran and former No. 2 GOP leader, Blunt is the son of a state legislator and father of a former governor. In the 1980s, he twice was elected to the secretary of State's job that Carnahan now holds. Carnahan's grandfather served seven terms in Congress, her father was a two-term governor and her mother was a U.S. senator for about two years. Carnahan's brother, Russ, also is on the ballot, seeking his fourth term representing parts of St. Louis in the U.S. House.
Blunt and Carnahan are not exceptions. A USA TODAY survey of this year's field of candidates finds more than two dozen running for governor and Congress who are related to former or past officeholders. That includes "Tea Party" favorite Rand Paul, Kentucky's Republican Senate nominee and the son of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a 22-year congressional veteran who has run for president as a Libertarian and as a Republican.
Three sons of former governors, Democrats Andrew Cuomo in New York, Terry Goddard in Arizona and Jerry Brown in California, are running for their fathers' old jobs. The progeny of two prominent Republicans, the late president Richard Nixon and former vice president Dan Quayle, are seeking election to the House.
Voters are attracted to political names they know for the same reasons that "some people buy Ivory soap," says Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar who wrote America's Political Dynasties. "We used it; we liked it; we think when we use it again, it will be just as good."