At 25, Sarah Huckabee has several roles in her father Mike's bid for the Republican nomination for president. Among them: field director, character witness and no-nonsense adviser. She can be seen on YouTube these days, laughing and telling an interviewer that "I can neither confirm nor deny" whether she wears miniskirts, which her dad doesn't like.
Cate Edwards, also 25, is taking a light schedule at Harvard Law School to campaign for her father, Democrat John Edwards. She says she hasn't persuaded him to support same-sex marriage, but that he seems to be heeding her "tips on being cool," such as, "don't dance in front of people."
Sarah and Cate are among more than two dozen adult children of presidential candidates who are drawing scrutiny as never before — and pointing up the political rewards and risks of enlisting family members in campaigns. About half the adult children are active in their parents' presidential bids, while others — notably Chelsea Clinton, the 27-year-old daughter of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton — are not.
Some of those on the sidelines crave privacy; others can't afford to leave jobs or other responsibilities. Some don't share their parents' views. But just as technology such as YouTube and increasingly accessible public databases have made it easier to examine candidates' lives, they've had the same effect on family members — regardless of whether they seek such attention.
That was driven home in May, when former senator Fred Thompson, a Republican hopeful, shut down his political action committee. It was starting to attract unflattering attention because it had paid Thompson's son Daniel $170,000 in consulting fees from 2003 to 2006, according to a database compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. During the same period the committee, established during Thompson's Senate years to finance travel and contributions to other politicians, had given only about $40,000 to candidates.
Daniel Thompson, 42, says he filed monthly financial reports and handled other PAC business while the committee was in a holding pattern as his father decided what to do after leaving the Senate in January 2003. He says his fees were "well-below average" and covered operational costs as well as his time. Thompson also says some money went to charity (more than $26,000, federal records show).
Now a fundraising consultant for non-profit groups, Thompson says the episode "is of no consequence to me because I'm just excited and supportive" of his father's campaign for president. So far, Daniel says, his role has been to offer moral support.
Analysts say the spotlight on candidates' adult children is a departure from the traditional function of kids — mostly very young ones — as props for photo opportunities.
"We're interested in little children because they're cute and photogenic and say funny things," says Stacy Cordery, author of a new biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the rebellious daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. "I find it fascinating that older children are not flying under the radar" in this campaign.
'I'm not a yes person'
Political strategists say any problems or controversies surrounding an adult child generally threaten a candidate's focus more than his or her chances of winning.
"The key thing is to not let them become a distraction to the candidate," says GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who managed an array of child-related distractions as President Reagan's political director.