The Large Family Advantage: How GOP Candidates' Kids Are Helping Their Campaigns

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As a presidential candidate, having seven children can be like having seven built-in campaigners, photo-op makers, debate-party hosts, and on-message tweeters. And by that standard, GOP presidential candidates Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum are champions at maximizing the campaign potential of their large families.

"Candidates only have a certain amount of time to travel the country, but if they have a spouse or older children they can double triple or quadruple the number of campaign appearances," said Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at the nonprofit Brookings Institution.

For Santorum that means packing his seven children, who range in age from 3 to 20, into two minivans for an early primary state roadtrip, or "epic…family tour" as he calls it.

"Candidates love to involve families in their campaigns because it presents a more human face on what's happening," West said.

The Santorum clan set off on their journey to the Ames Straw Poll July 26 and plans to stop in 50 cities over the 18-day trek. And the family fun doesn't stop there. Once in Ames the family will pass out home-made peach jam samples made from peach trees in their backyard.

"Having kids out campaigning is largely a visual signal to voters," said Tim Hagle, an associate political science professor at the University of Iowa. "They are saying here's my family, I'm a solid family man here are my kids, look at them, I raised them up right."

The three eldest Huntsman girls are taking a more digital approach, launching the @jon2012girls twitter account in July. The girls' 678 followers get a glimpse of campaign life such as tweets thanking event organizers and, of course, links to their dad's TV interviews, all delivered light-heartedly in 140 characters.

"It has been very common to bring spouses and children to campaign rallies and have them be on stage or sometimes speak to the crowd," West said. "What's happening now is the electronic equivalent of that."

The Huntsman girls are also using their newfound online voice to entice potential voters to campaign events like the debate watching party they are hosting for the New Hampshire debate tomorrow night.

"Getting excited to host a debate party in Manchester, NH. Tune in Thursday night for the Fox debate 9pm EST," @jon2012girls tweeted Tuesday.

But it's not all politics for Mary Anne, Abby and Liddy, all in their mid-20s. The girls have tweeted about everything from their favorite summer cocktail – "st. Germaine, Hendricks gin, and a splash of soda. Only way to beat the florida heat." – to a photo of Liddy "planking" across the arms of a hotel armchair.

"It's a good idea in the sense that it represents another form of campaign outreach and family members have an authenticity that makes them valuable campaigners," West said.

The only other candidates whose children are active on twitter are Mitt Romney, whose 41-year-old son Tagg tweets from @tromney, and Ron Paul, whose son Rand is a U.S. Senator and uses the @SenRandPaul handle.

Romney's son's feed is dedicated almost entirely to promoting his dad's campaign. Tagg does throw in a little personal flair with shout-outs to football player Ochocinco and country music star Brad Paisley mixed in with comments about Romney's poll results and campaign videos.

While Tagg is probably a little too old to relate to younger voters, Huntsman's daughter's twitter involvement could be an asset to helping the 51-year-old candidate connect with the youth vote, which was pivotal to Obama's election in 2008.

"It's good and it's charming and it reaches out to students in ways that older candidates can't really relate to," Hagle said.

But West cautioned that with 140 characters comes great responsibility.

"They just need to understand there are risks associated with that opportunity. People in their 20s are used to putting all sorts of things online that could be problematic when in the middle of a presidential campaign. Even casual comments are going to subject to media scrutiny," West said.

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