Americans like name brands, so it’s not surprising that last week’s election swept into office a mini-wave of young politicos with familiar monikers. “Voters like the assurance of names they are comfortable with,” says Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess. But the new generation of political heirs often lacks the flamboyance and charisma of their famous forebears. Often they tend to be pragmatic policy wonks who benefited from name recognition at the polls—an advantage that won’t last long. “The name is worth one step up the ladder,” says Hess. “Now they’re on their own.”
Like her father, Moon Landrieu, the pro-civil rights New Orleans mayor, 40-year-old Mary Landrieu has always shown political savvy. In Louisiana, says one veteran campaign adviser, “she really has been the defining woman politician.” Elected at 23 to the Louisiana State House, Landrieu later served two terms as a reform-minded state treasurer. After losing the Democratic primary for governor last year, Landrieu—who has a 4-year-old adopted son with husband Frank Snellings, a lawyer—barely missed a beat and plunged into her ultimately successful Senate race. She credits last week’s victory, by fewer than 10,000 votes, in part to campaign manager Norma Jane Sabiston. The two met as a teenagers at a state leadership program. Says Sabiston: “I think it’s kind of neat that two young women who started out when they were 17-year-olds come back to put together an effort like this.”
Harold Ford Jr.
At age 4, during his father’s first run for Congress, Harold Ford Jr. appeared in a radio ad with a list of demands—for a better school, a better house and lower cookie prices. Now, after capturing the House seat held for 22 years by his father, Harold Ford Sr. (who is retiring), Harold Jr., a 26-year-old bachelor, will be on the receiving end of such grievances. Though initially dismissed as “Junior” by opponents, the recent law school grad parlayed the putdown to victory with 62 percent of the vote. T-shirts sporting the “Jr.” logo became a Memphis fad, and the candidate became a favorite of generation X-ers, whom he calls eager for opportunity. He also campaigned in 100 schools, turning himself into “king of the kindergarten graduations.” No one is prouder than his dad. “I wanted to be good,” says the senior Ford. “But I wanted my kids to be even better.”
Jesse Jackson Jr.
For years, passionate two-time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson, 55, coached his computer-whiz son, Jesse Jr., 31, to speak not just from his head but his heart. Now, says his father, “I learn a lot from him.” The second of his five children with wife Jackie defeated Republican Thomas Somer, a lawyer, in a special election last December and won a full term this round when Somer—calling the race a “costly exercise in futility”—pulled out. A low-key team player, Jackson, who shares a Chicago home with his lawyer wife, Sandi, 33, showed his style in August when he helped avoid a convention fight by quietly persuading the party to soften its pro-death-penalty platform. Not content with stumping for some 36 Democratic candidates this season, Jackson is now setting up a permanent Web site to teach other generation X-ers how to campaign. “He uses the McDonald’s theory,” says friend Rep. Cleo Fields. “When you stir the hearts of young people, you stir the hearts of their parents.”
John E. Sununu
Friends of John E. Sununu give New Hampshire’s new congressman higher marks for affability than his often irascible father, John H. Sununu, who served six years as the state’s governor and three years as President George Bush’s chief of staff. Even the senior Sununu, now a CNN political analyst, concedes that his son’s disposition is “a bit more even” than his own: “But I had to come out of the pack when nobody knew the name.” Although name recognition was no problem, Sununu, 32, a Republican who has two children with his wife, Catherine, squeezed by Democratic attorney Joseph Keefe with only a 50 to 47 percent margin. A business analyst in his father’s consulting firm, the political novice received little coaching from his dad, who nonetheless offered this advice: New Hampshire “is all retail politics,” he told his son. “Make sure you shake every voter’s hand twice.”
Once, when Joe Kennedy, now 44, was acting up as a kid, his older sister Kathleen, now lieutenant governor of Maryland, snapped, “Be quiet now. You’re going to cost us votes.” “Even as children,” says political analyst Stephen Hess, “they understood politics.” As adults, Joe—the oldest son of Ethel and the late Robert Kennedy—and his cousin Patrick—the youngest of Sen. Edward and his ex-wife Joan’s three children—have mastered the game. Cigar-smoking Joe, the father of 16-year-old twins, soundly trounced Republican R. Philip Hyde, a self-proclaimed nobody who recently lost his job as an editor for a news-clipping service, to win his sixth congressional term. Kennedy’s $1.3 million advertising blitz failed even to mention Hyde, raising suspicions that the race was a warm-up for Joe’s ’98 run for governor.
Likewise, second-termer Patrick, 29, drubbed recent Republican law grad Giovanni Cicione, 25, in a race one observer called a snoozer. Although he upset the Catholic Church by commenting that he hopes it “crawls out of the Stone Age” (for refusing to ordain women priests), Patrick, a quiet bachelor who receives fan mail primarily from grandmothers, made national headlines only once during the campaign: when he leaked news of cousin John Jr. and Carolyn Bessette’s September nuptials. Still, showing new confidence, he earned applause from Democratic colleagues in March when he abandoned his usual reticence to passionately defend the assault weapons ban in Congress. Says his dad, Teddy: “I have always been proud of Patrick, but never more so than at that moment.”