Who's your daddy?

Will Dynasties Rule U.S. Politics?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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There's been a flurry of attention to dynastic politics this year, perhaps because of the possibility of a Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush presidential match-up, but also because it has seemed that the Democratic strategy for winning Senate seats in the South comes down to relying on dynastic politicians such as Michelle Nunn (daughter of Senator Sam) in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes (daughter of state politician Jerry Lundergan) in Kentucky.

There are plenty of dynastic politicians in the U.S., as Mitt Romney, Al Gore and all those Bushes could tell us. But despite the attention that dynasties attract, there just aren't as many now as there used to be. For example, National Journal hyped the dynastic angle in a 2013 article titled, "Congress: The Next Generation." But of six candidates and potential candidates featured, only two have a chance of actually serving in the 114th Congress next year, and neither is favored.

In the Senate, this could be a terrible year for dynasties. Eight Senators are retiring, two of whom represent dynasties: Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Carl Levin of Michigan (whose older brother, Sander, preceded him in elective office). In only two cases -- West Virginia and Georgia, where both major party candidates hail from dynasties -- will a dynastic politician join the Senate.

In another seven contested seats, only one challenger is from a political family, Grimes in Kentucky. In six states, however, the incumbent is from a political dynasty and the challenger is not. Five of the six incumbents trail their opponent in the latest HuffPollster averages (as does Grimes). So there's a good possibility the number of dynasties represented in the Senate will decline.

Who qualifies as part of a dynasty? Senator Mark Begich (son of Representative Nick) of Alaska, Senator Mark Udall (son of Representative Mo) of Colorado, Mary Landrieu (daughter of Mayor Moon) of Louisiana and Senator Mark Pryor (son of Senator David) of Arkansas. I also count Kansas Senator Pat Roberts because his father served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, even though, as far as I know, Roberts Sr. never held elected office. Meanwhile, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan's family is active in Florida politics. (My source for all of this is Wikipedia, which may be less than comprehensive, especially for non-incumbents who typically have shorter biographies.)

Bottom line? There probably will be fewer dynastic senators in 2015 -- perhaps many fewer. And 2016? Maybe we'll see the ultimate dynastic tag teams, with Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo battling Jeb Bush and Rand Paul. However, chances are we'll wind up with a pretty normal number of dynasties represented on the national tickets.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net