Presidential Campaign: Big GOP Families Lining Up to Fill White House

VIDEO: Jon Huntsman
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In presidential elections, family matters, and the 2012 GOP candidates have some of the largest in history.

Taken together, the nine announced Republican candidates have a combined 37 children. That's an average of 4.1 children each, more than double the national average.

"Kids have always been part of the scene at the White House," ABC News commentator Cokie Roberts said.

"The biggest family in the White House was Teddy Roosevelt's family and they were totally wild. They had animals and craziness. Not just dogs and cats, but flying squirrels and a donkey in the house."

Roosevelt had six children ranging from 4 to 17 when he took office in 1901.

"That's why Roosevelt built the West Wing and the Oval Office next to the main White House – he needed some peace and quiet to get work done," said ABC White House correspondent Ann Compton.

Two 2012 presidential candidates, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, each have seven.

If Huntsman, who officially launched is presidential campaign today, were to take the White House, he would bring with him his two youngest daughters, Gracie Mei, 12, and Asha Bharati, 5. The Huntsmans adopted Gracie Mei from China and Asha Bharati from India, which he mentioned in a video released by his campaign Friday.

Santorum would fill the White House with five children younger than 18.

There have been only two presidents with more than four children since World War I: Franklin D. Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush each had six but were all grown when their dads took office. FDR's youngest child, John, was 17 when he was elected and Bush Sr.'s youngest child, Dorothy, was 30 when her dad moved into 1600 Pennsylvania.

Compton said there would be plenty of space for whomever was elected, no matter how large his or her family.

"They have plenty of bedrooms, not just on the second floor but on the third floor where [President Obama's] mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, lives. They have lots of bedrooms," Compton said.

When Bush Sr. was elected, his six children, plus their wives and their children, all came and stayed in the White House on occasion, she said.

Rep Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has five children from 10 to 22, which she happily pointed out in her opening statement at last week's New Hampshire debate. "I've had five children and we are the proud foster parents of 23 great children," she said.

Roberts said, "The White House would be a great place to foster children. Think of it, she could have 100."

Most of the candidates, with the exception of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, mentioned how many children they have in their opening statements at the debate. Paul did note, though, that he "delivered babies for a living and delivered 4,000 babies."

Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at the nonprofit Brookings Institution, said, "Generally, candidates use their children to humanize themselves and so involving family members can be an asset because it shows a less formal side of the personality."

Both Romney's and Gingrich's children, all of whom are older than 30, will likely play a large role in their campaigns.

"Older children can go out and do campaign appearances, young children look cute, so each can help in different sorts of ways," West said.

Kids Are a "Tremendous Asset" to Presidential Candidates

All five of Romney's sons campaigned for their dad during the 2008 campaign. His oldest son, Tagg, was a senior adviser for Romney for President Inc. and was the deputy campaign manager of Romney's campaign for governor.

Both of Newt Gingrich's daughters, Jackie Cushman and Kathy Lubbers, are involved in his campaign. After last week's debate, the two fielded questions on behalf of their father.

Cushman, Gingrich's younger daughter, said she and her sister have been helping out with their dad's campaigns since he started running for Congress when she was 7. She started out stuffing envelopes and making phone calls. Now, at the age of 44, she is organizing events and helping to make campaign decisions.

"To me, growing up from a family in the campaign was in many ways interesting. I think it has more positives than negatives," Cushman said. "I learned so much more. I got to go to so many more events. Yes, we were on the road a lot but it was more fun than anything else."

In contrast, Herman Cain seems to be keeping his children, Melanie and Vincent, out of the campaign spotlight, although he has mentioned his grandchildren on several occasions.

"I'm here tonight because it's not about us, it's about those grandkids," he said at the New Hampshire debate.

Doug Wead, author of "All the Presidents' Children," said kids are a "tremendous asset" to presidential candidates. Richard Nixon learned quickly from the Kennedy's that being seen with his young children would "endear the public to the candidate," so his two daughters, Julie and Trish, were on his arm wherever he went, Wead said.

Older children are just as helpful, he said, because they are "money-making machines."

"Let's say Romney becomes the nominee. … If they can't get Romney ,then they'll say send your kids because people will pay $1,000 to take a picture with Romney's kids," Wead said.

Minnesota Gov.Tim Pawlenty has only two children, both teenagers, as does former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. Both of Johnson's kids are grown.

While juggling children and a presidential campaign can be difficult, the toll of being the president's child is far more profound, he said.

"It has a devastating impact on the kids and it doesn't really matter how old they are," he said. "It's not the White House or the bubble or the news or any of that that affects them, it's the quest for their own separate identity."

Roberts said it is mostly up to each candidate how involved their kids are in their campaign. Bill and Hillary Clinton, for example, kept daughter Chelsea out of the limelight as much as possible. George W. Bush and Barack Obama have taken a page out of the Clintons' book.

"In the case of both the Bush family and the Obama family, the press has pretty much accepted that off-limits dictum, but many other families did find themselves with the kids part of the campaign," Roberts said.

"You can't have it both ways. You can't have your child with you everywhere being used as a political prop and also say the child is off limits," Roberts said.

First Children Get Secret Service Protection, Too

While the candidates and their spouses are automatically protected by Secret Service starting 120 days before the general election, the current president must sign a presidential directive for the Secret Service to provide protection for the children of presidential candidates.

During the 2008 elections, then-Sen. Barack Obama was given Secret Service protection earlier on in the campaign than any candidate in history. His security detail was assigned May 2, 2007, more than a year and a half before the general election. Sen. John McCain did not receive protection until nearly a year later, on April 28, 2008.

First lady Michelle Obama's protection began nine months after her husband's, in February 2008, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, got their bodyguards three months before their dad was elected president.

Once elected, even children who do not live in the White House are protected by Secret Service.