For candidates' kids, new roles and attention

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.

At their best, some operatives say, adult children are highly sought surrogate speakers, envoys to peer groups such as students, and windows to a candidate's character.

"They play a really important part in giving people a deeper insight into the candidate as a parent and a family person," says Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway, who worked on the 2004 convention that showcased well-received speeches by nominee John Kerry's daughters.

Besides Sarah Huckabee and Cate Edwards, this year's active offspring include Republican John McCain's daughter Meghan, 22, who last week launched an on-the-road blog called McCainblogette.com.

Also in the mix are John Mark Huckabee, one of Sarah's two brothers; Democrat Joseph Biden's daughter and two sons, and Republican Mitt Romney's five sons.

They say they give their parents unvarnished advice and opinions, mostly on style and strategy. "I'm not a yes person, whether it's about a tie choice or a joke," Sarah Huckabee says.

The five Romney brothers occasionally try to get their father "to go a little more casual," says Tagg Romney, 37, the eldest. Aside from the Iowa state fair (Mitt Romney wore shirtsleeves and no tie) and straw poll in August (golf shirt and khakis), they've had little success.

"He is who he is," Romney says of his father. "He thinks wearing the suit and tie to most things is what the office requires."

The difficult child

Cordery says independent-minded progeny could make some voters wonder, "If a president cannot govern his own children, how can he govern the country?"

Yet grown-up children have been the bane of several successful politicians. Alice Roosevelt Longworth was notoriously uncontrollable. Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying he could manage the government or manage Alice, but he couldn't do both.

Reagan's children brought a raft of complications. Ron Reagan Jr. and Patti Davis, Reagan's children with wife Nancy, did not share their parents' conservative political views. Davis aired family conflicts in an autobiographical novel and later — after dad was out of office — posed nude for Playboy and appeared in an adult video.

Maureen Reagan, the president's daughter with actress Jane Wyman, ran unsuccessfully in the 1982 Senate primary in California without her father's backing.

"The president made it clear that he did not get involved in primaries," Rollins says.

In 1984, after her father was re-elected, Maureen wanted to be co-chairman of the Republican National Committee. Rollins says committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf told him to "stop this."

Rollins says he got up his nerve and told Reagan that his daughter would be "a disaster" in the post. "He said, 'Ed, just be grateful I only have one child who's active in politics.' "

Maureen got the job.

Republican Rudy Giuliani, who is in his third marriage and on strained terms with his two children from his second, is a current example of how private problems can co-exist with political success.

His son Andrew, 21, a Duke University student and golfer, says he won't have time to campaign. Andrew told ABC News in March that "I got my values from my mother," Donna Hanover.

Andrew Giuliani did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. His father asks voters to "leave my family alone" and judge him by his record. The former New York mayor has led national polls of the GOP field for months.

Sometimes, the career choices of candidates' children can create awkward situations on the campaign trail.

Some candidates (Democrat Mike Gravel, and Republicans Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee) have criticized hedge funds for paying excessive salaries and concentrating too much wealth; others (John Edwards and Barack Obama) have railed against lobbyists they say have too much influence in Washington.

You don't hear much of that from other candidates whose children are lobbyists or hedge-fund analysts.

Hunter Biden, son of the Delaware senator, lobbies the U.S. government for eight universities and a hospital, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. Tony Thompson, one of Fred's sons, represents national clients at the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville, state records show. The clients include eBay, Coors Brewing Co. and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Chelsea Clinton is an analyst at Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund. During a debate in April, Hillary Clinton was invited to criticize John Edwards' work as a senior investment adviser at a hedge fund. Not surprisingly, she passed. Chelsea Clinton declined an interview request.

The Iraq war adds more complications for candidates' kids. Anti-war sentiment among Democrats is strong, but Beau Biden, 38, is circumspect on the subject when he campaigns for his father. Besides being Delaware's attorney general, Biden is a captain in the Delaware National Guard. His unit was told it might be sent to Iraq next year.

"I don't get into long discussions … about my personal beliefs on the war," he says. He does talk about his father's plan to turn Iraq into a loose federation of three autonomous ethnic-religious regions — "the best idea on the most important issue of the day."

The five Romney brothers, who take turns blogging and driving an RV they call the Mitt Mobile, got caught in a mini-controversy in August when someone asked their father why they weren't serving in the military. The former Massachusetts governor said his sons were "showing support for our nation" by helping him get elected.

Tagg Romney, former chief marketing officer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, laughs ruefully when asked about that remark. "He's said he certainly didn't mean to draw a parallel between what we're doing and what members of the military do, because obviously there's a huge difference," Romney says. "He apologized for it right away."

The incident provoked online ire about "trust-fund" kids. There is, in fact, a $100 million trust fund set up for the Romney sons. However, "we don't have access to it yet," Tagg Romney says. He says he's living on savings while working for the campaign.

Humanizing a parent

What is fair game in a campaign? Are the rules different for children who are active campaigners and those trying to lead private lives?

"There's got to be some zone of privacy," says Democratic strategist Chad Clanton, a spokesman for John Kerry's campaign in 2004. Even if children are active, "their names aren't on the ballot."

Cate Edwards says career choices made by adult children are "bound to come up" but shouldn't be used to judge candidates. Nor, she adds, should people "use candidates' children as a tool for making a point. I don't think that's fair."

At a debate in 2004, when John Edwards was the Democratic nominee for vice president, he said of Vice President Cheney and his wife that "you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they are willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her."

Mary Cheney, a lesbian, was then a high-level official in her father's re-election campaign.

Cate Edwards says her father's comment did not cross any lines. "What Dad said was very complimentary," she says.

Rollins disagrees. He says it was out of bounds because "the premise was to show an inconsistency or a hypocrisy" by the vice president on gay rights issues.

Mary Cheney was a force behind the scenes, but most adult children active in campaigns are deployed publicly to humanize their parents. Alexandra Kerry told the 2004 Democratic convention about how her father rescued her drowning hamster. A few weeks later at the GOP convention, Jenna Bush said her father "cheered for us when we scored a goal, even when it was for the wrong team."

This year, Beau and Hunter Biden are stressing their father's resilience in recovering from an automobile accident that killed their mother and baby sister in 1972, and brain aneurysms that nearly killed him in 1988. Voters, Beau Biden says, "want to know what's in your core. No one in this race has more mettle than my father."

Cate Edwards says voters can see in her the values her parents taught her, including "service and being natural." Sarah Huckabee says her presence helps answer the question "what kind of guy is this?"

Tagg Romney was deputy manager of his father's 2002 campaign for governor. His roles now include spokesman, strategist, money manager, morale booster, private adviser and family mobilizer. He says he asked 150 relatives to help at the Iowa straw poll in August — no pay or hotel rooms provided — and 96 came. His dad won easily.

"It's definitely a plus to have a strong family that's supporting you 100%," he says. "It's helpful to have the people you love most behind you."

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