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The Reids and the Dangers of Dynastic Politics

Rory Reid and his father, Harry, are running for governor and Senate, respectively, in Nevada in 2010. Photos by AP/Getty Images

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid's (D) long-awaited announcement today that he would run for governor of Nevada in 2010 means that he and his father -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) -- will be on the same ballot next November.

While both Reids downplay that rarest of occurrences, there is concern among some Democratic strategists that two Reids running statewide in 2010 is one too many for Nevada voters.

"Given that Harry Reid is in trouble for having priorities other than Nevada, being on the ticket with his son is not a good thing," said one senior Democratic strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly.

Neither Reid starts their bid in particularly strong position. A recent Las Vegas Review-Journal poll showed Harry Reid trailing two little-known Republican challengers. In that same poll, Rory Reid placed third with 25 percent in a three-way matchup with former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval (R) and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman who is weighing a bid as an independent.

While the Reids are the only two members of the same family who will appear on the same ballot next year, they are far from the only example of dynastic politics at work in American politics in the 2010 midterm elections.

Among them:

* Business Rand Paul (R), the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), is running for the Senate in Kentucky.
* State Attorney General Beau Biden (D) is expected to seek his father's vacated Senate seat in Delaware.
* Ethan Hastert (R), the youngest son of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), is in the race to reclaim his father's 14th district.
* Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the daughter of former Gov. Mel Carnahan and former Sen. Jean Carnahan and the sister of Rep. Russ Carnahan, is running in the open seat race to replace Rep. Kit Bond (R).
* Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek, who replaced his mother, Carrie, in the House is seeking a Senate seat.

The recent history of political dynasties is not encouraging. Former Sen. Hillary Clinton's (N.Y.) presidential bid in 2008 was hamstrung by questions about her husband and what it would mean to have two families -- the Bushes and the Clintons -- control the presidency for more than two decades.

In 2006, New Jersey state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R) lost a bid for Senate despite the popularity of his father who was a former governor of the Garden State. Four years earlier Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, an heir to the Kennedy political legacy, lost her bid for the governorship despite the clear Democratic tendencies of the Old Line State.

While a politically famous last name gives a candidate a foot in the door with voters, running as a legacy candidate is not an easy task -- particularly if the legacy of your parent or sibling is mixed.

And, American voters seem to have developed a bias against political dynasties in recent years meaning that Rory Reid and his ilk may have a higher bar to clear in terms of credibility and readiness than candidates without famous family names.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 14, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Short Takes  
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Ya ya ya Who cares? What about Grandpa Reid? Will he also be on the ballot? Are you surprise that these political siblings are following in the footsteps of their parents? This plays out in America everyday. Siblings often want to get in the same line of business like their parents. What is bad in this? Judging by how less politicians and government workers earned, it is good these kids want to serve their country. Some serve in the military while others serve through elected offices and have folks like you in the fourth estate drag them through mud and pain in the process. The love their country and want to go down the same path of agony like their dads/mums. We should be proud of them.

Posted by: vickjungo | October 15, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse


BTW, John Quincy Adams is generally regarded as a failed President. I admit he was extraordinarily qualified, but based on his record as President he is not an argument in favor of dynastic succession.

Posted by: bpai_99 | October 15, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse


BTW, John Quincy Adams was a failed President.

Posted by: bpai_99 | October 15, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Personally, I think there should be a legal moratorium against anyone running for an elected office previously held by a family member, lasting for at least 10 years or (better) for a generation.

Sure, we might lose some capable candidates because of this, but we'd be spared many more lesser, incompetent heirs whose only qualification for an office is their family name (and fortune). Dynastic succession is completely contrary to the American ideal of self-achievement and individual merit.

We don't hold sons accountable for the sins of their fathers, why should they be given extra consideration because of the same?

Posted by: bpai_99 | October 15, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Everyone hates demagogues.
Everyone loves democracy.
Dynasty. They love it,
They hate it.
We get it.

Posted by: shrink2 | October 14, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

Ddawd, you are exactly right, of course.

A number of folks were clamoring for Caroline Kennedy to be APPOINTED to the U.S. Senate, as I recall.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 14, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Tell that one to Steve Forbes. "Hey, I have enough money (all inherited) that I can run for President."

or Jon Kyl, Barry Goldwater, Jr., and countless others.

Posted by: thephd | October 14, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Alexis de Tocqueville opined that American-style democracy was no threat to aristocratic rule, indeed American democracy keeps the same old aristocrats in power but gives them a veneer of popular legitimacy. He was exactly right.

The ongoing phenomenon of American Dynasties, from Adams to Bush, is yet another reminder that democracy is necessary but hardly sufficient for a just, fair, and egalitarian society.

Posted by: DupontJay | October 14, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Politics is hardly the sole profession where there are family dynasties. The film and television industry seem to have at least as many as in the political arena.

However, the trend toward political dynasties in this country suggests this country may be ruled as much by aristocratic families, as a supposed "democratic" process.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | October 14, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Per usual, the MSM did not give us an accurate picture of the Limbaugh situation.

The MSM made it was only a few commie crazies against him and everyone else was fine. Not so. It turns out Commissioner Goodell, the NFL team owners (who have to approve the purchase), the union, the individual players, including probably all the black players, and practically everyone outside Fox News opposed Rush getting the team.

The Republic has been saved.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | October 14, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse


So, you think that John Quincy Adams should have been prevented from becoming President of the United States? Good luck getting that Amendment ratified.

Posted by: JakeD | October 14, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Don't care for these two Reids. But Texas Ranger John Reid was special.
Re Harry Reid, who has ever done so little with a 60 vote majority? What a waste.


Developing: HuffPo is reporting that Rush is being pushed out of the investment group looking to buy the St. Louis Rams. Evidently the group leaked the news to the press before telling Rush-bo.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | October 14, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

I believe there should be legal restrictions on candidates when it comes to succeeding a family member in an elected office. Perhaps a moratorium on running for 10 years or a generation.

Sure, it might deprive us of some talented candidates, but it also would prevent a great deal more of unqualified candidates who nevertheless have an advantage solely based on their birth. That is completely against the American ideal of individual worth and achievement.

We don't hold people accountable for the sins of their fathers, why do we give them a leg up because of the same?

Posted by: bpai_99 | October 14, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse


I just read Judge Land's order for sanctions and agree they were proper (Dr. Taitz should have stopped the legal action once the soldier's deployment orders had been revoked). Let's see how long DoD can keep using that end-run.


I'm basing my choice to vote against her on her politics too.

Posted by: JakeD | October 14, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Hah, thanks for the tip, koolkat. Looking over the decision, I don't know if the 20k fine or the stinging disdain are going to hurt worse.

Posted by: nodebris | October 14, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

I understand JakeD. I couldn't either. I'd base my choice to vote against her on her politics though--not her sexual orientation.

Posted by: Coloradem1 | October 14, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Coloradem1, but I can't vote for Mary Cheney.

Posted by: JakeD | October 14, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Not sure where to put this, so I'll put it here: A federal judge has just sanctioned birther/wingnut/freak Orly Taitz for frivolous arguments on behalf of her client, a gutless coward who doesn't want to go to Iraq.


Posted by: koolkat_1960 | October 14, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

"Way too many American families have made politicking the family business. It does not always work out badly for us, but this is a big country and not one that requires dynasties to operate.

Posted by: mark_in_austin"

We don't have a dynasty. We have a Democracy where people don't do their homework. No one forces people to vote based on name recognition, but no one forces them not to either.

Posted by: DDAWD | October 14, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Chris you forgot the most (in)famous Republicans:

Bush: (2 Presidents and a Governor)
Cheney (Vice President and GOP mouthpiece who Kathleen Parker seems to feel is eligible as a leader of the GOP because Daddy got her a job at the State Department)

Then there is the next Republican dynasty the Kathleen is trying to foist on America, McCain and his daughter.

Posted by: alysheba_3 | October 14, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Can't recall a Cilizza blog post on former senator Murkowski (R-AK) who runs for governor, wins, and appoints his daughter to Senate seat. That apparently is the way to do it if you are not a Democrat. Gosh I wish we had a non-partisan pivoting us on WaPo.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | October 14, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Not so sure about Liz Cheney--How about Mary Cheney?

Posted by: Coloradem1 | October 14, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Way too many American families have made politicking the family business. It does not always work out badly for us, but this is a big country and not one that requires dynasties to operate.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 14, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Go Liz Cheney!!!

Posted by: JakeD | October 14, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

two reids are to much for NV!

Posted by: dee150586 | October 14, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

John Adams and John Quincy Adams, as well as George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush (obviously not in the same years). If one Reid has to win, I'd rather it be little Rory.

Posted by: JakeD | October 14, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

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