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."