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Walking the campaign trail in parents' shoes

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Political dynasties are nothing new. Ever since the days of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, most states have had at least one family that's sent generations of politicians to Congress – the Frelinghuysens of New Jersey, for example, and the Longs of Louisiana.

Some families spill into multiple states, as the Kennedys have done from Massachusetts to Rhode Island to Maryland (where the latest contender, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, is now running for governor).

Though there are no reliable statistics on dynasties, Mr. Hess says the number seems to have remained fairly constant over time. On the one hand, he points out, the trend toward smaller families has probably lowered the odds of getting "one [child] who will go into Daddy's business."

Yet other factors – such as the number of women going into politics – widen the familial pool. Not only are daughters of politicians running for office, but more and more wives are, as well – such as Elizabeth Dole (R) in North Carolina, and Sen. Jean Carnahan (D) in Missouri.

And there are new black and Hispanic dynasties, such as the Fords (D) of Tennessee and the Gonzalezes (D) of Texas.

Moreover, analysts say, as campaigning relies more on soundbites and ads, the value of famous names may be growing.

"Sometimes, it even helps people who aren't related but who have the same last name," points out Donald Ritchie, associate Senate historian.

Of course, this can cut both ways. In Illinois, state Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan (R) may have to work hard to convince voters that he is not related to current Gov. George Ryan (R), whose tenure has been marred by scandal.

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