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Opinion: Family Ties

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It’s not just the presidential candidates who are enduring the grueling rituals of running for office these days. It’s their families too. Or some of them anyway.

Families (those whose members don’t get DUI’s anyway) can be very helpful as surrogate campaigners, drawing media and voter attention in places the candidate can’t reach. And they can also present a pleasant backdrop for the candidate to display him or herself as a regular person with family values.

For the moment Mitt Romney, his wife of 38 years Ann, their five sons, their wives and children are the most obvious on the campaign trail. The sons all write a blog, Five Brothers, about their family and travels and participate in family videos on the Mitt TV section of the website. One recent entry includes Ann’s recipe for meatloaf cakes, said to be the former Governor’s favorite meal. This summer son Josh is driving an RV to all 99 Iowa counties.

In a recent speech in eastern Iowa Romney made a possibly revealing adjustment in his remarks. ‘People in Iowa who get a chance to see (the candidates) one by one,’ he said, ‘recognize that I can bring--and my family can bring--something to this country that we need.’

The presence of the Romney brood does make a positive unspoken contrast among conservatives with other Republican candidates, many of whom are divorced. John McCain, who divorced his first wife who waited for him during his prisoner of war years, is often seen with Cindy, his current wife, but the children from the first marriage are less often around.

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Rudy Giuliani, who is now on his third marriage and is estranged from his son Andrew, usually has his wife, Judy Nathan, also on her third marriage, alongside. In fact, in recent years, according to the N.Y. Daily News, Giuliani paid her $125,000 a year as a speechwriter for her travels with him. There’s nothing illegal in that (they reported it and paid taxes), but it is unusual.

Fred Thompson, not yet a candidate, is also divorced. He was linked with country singer Lori Morgan before marrying Jeri Kehn, a former Republican operative. They have two young children. Jim Gilmore’s son Ashton works fulltime in campaign headquarters and another, Jay, travels as possible.

Bill Richardson’s wife Barbara shies away from politics. And they have no children. Mike Huckabee’s wife Janet has traveled with him occasionally and their daughter Sarah, often travels with her dad and wrote fundraising appeals. Sam and Mary Brownback’s five children have all traveled with him, as have John Edwards’ children. Both Elizabeth Edwards and Michelle Obama have both campaigned separately for their husbands.

As Top of the Ticket has reported, Bill Clinton will join his wife Hillary on the campaign trail more as the summer wears on, although daughter Chelsea is nowhere to be seen.

In 1999-2000 it was George W. Bush’s fervent dream that daughters Barbara and Jenna campaign with him as he had with his father, George H. W. Bush. They preferred the background, however, and George and Laura Bush, who had her own busy primary campaign travel schedule, fiercely protected the girls’ privacy. Nonetheless, the twins were often at campaign events anyway disguised as spectators.

Bottom line, look for lots of family scenes in the coming months.

--Andrew Malcolm


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