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Primary Election Campaigns Focusing On Family Ties

May 19, 2014

Dad, father, daughter, son and husband are all common words popping up in election ads this year, as family seems to be the theme in political campaigns this year.

Here & Now media analyst John Carroll discusses the trend with Here & Now’s about the familial trend.


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It's HERE AND NOW. Voters in six states head to the polls tomorrow for primary elections. And the ad teams have been busy in many of the races. Robin, we're seeing all the usual stuff. The standard attack...



DOBSON:, the heartfelt, flag waving ad, the good old family values ad, although that last category, this year, has gone a bit further than usual. HERE AND NOW media analyst John Carroll, joins us in the studio to talk about that. Hi, John.


DOBSON: Well, lets start...


DOBSON: ...lets...

YOUNG: Hello.

DOBSON: ...start with Georgia here. The Democrat primary for the U.S. Senate, four Democrats are running for the nomination in tomorrows primary and there's one candidate looking to ride her fathers coattails. That would be Michelle Nunn, daughter of Senator Sam Nunn, former Senator Sam Nunn. Her TV spot starts out with a vintage photograph of her dad. Let's listen to a little bit of it.


MICHELLE NUNN: My Dad was point guard for the Perry Panthers. I tried to follow in his footsteps. He went into politics, no, I didn't follow him there. Instead I devoted my life to raising a family and building volunteer organizations. And I went on to become CEO of President Bushs' Points of Light foundation. I'm Michelle Nunn. Now I'm running for Senate. I approved this message...

DOBSON: So she's embracing her dad's legacy there?

CARROLL: She is. She's trying to do a couple of things here. She's been accused of drifting to the right by the three other candidates in the Democratic primary. So she's starting to latch onto her father who has a strong legacy in the party. And also she's trying to, basically, provide this, sort of, common sense alternative to the current incumbents in Washington, D.C. So she's really - it's really a content-free spot except for the fact that her father comes on in the end with a basketball and says, you've got a good shot.

DOBSON: Well, and we think of that in the context of the campaign that we maybe about to enter in 2016 with a lot of legacy candidates running.

CARROLL: Right. And that's something that Democrats sort of across the board, especially in red states, have embraced if they have the chance. It's a way to sort of latch onto the family brand and make the most of it.

YOUNG: Well, and I'm thinking of Jimmy Carter's grandson who's running too. I mean, there's just so many people out there on parental and grandparent coattails.


YOUNG: But there's some reverse things happening too. There's - this is sort of the usual thing that candidates running talk about their kids. Congressman Jack Kingston, the Republican in Georgia is hoping to win tomorrows Republican U.S. Senate primary there and running an ad feature his kids. Lets listen to a little of that.


BETSY KINGSTON: Our Dad is Jack Kingston. He really is cheap and it's not just the car he drives.

JOHN KINGSTON: He'll drive five miles on empty, just to save two cents a gallon.

ANN KINGSTON: Have you seen our Tupperware collection?

JIM KINGSTON: We thought hand-me-down was the name of a department store.

KINGSTON: He'd call a family meeting when someone opened a Diet Coke without permission.

You know, for Dad to...

YOUNG: So how's that faring?

CARROLL: Well, I think it was fine. It's trying to show him as a fiscal conservative. He's using - these are his adult kids who are doing this spot.

YOUNG: Mm hmm.

CARROLL: And he's just trying to put a different twist on the - on a pretty standard kind of approach. I think that one of the interesting things is, the Democrats that we're going to see here are invoking their fathers. The Republicans are invoking themselves as fathers. And I'm not exactly sure what that means but it seems kind of interesting.

YOUNG: Well you also point out to us that when polls show maybe it wasn't working that well, he went back to another tried-and-true technique.

CARROLL: Right. Scorched earth. He went after David Perdue, a businessman, CEO. And went after him really hard because there is a runoff. He needs to finish in the top two in this primary to get into - get a chance at the nomination.

YOUNG: Describe the ad, that - where that he turned around on his opponent Perdue.

CARROLL: He depicts Dave Perdue as a baby. Babies have been sort of a running theme here and - filling in for the candidate. Depicts Davie Perdue as a baby who is gorging himself on cake. He's got it all over his clothes and, you know, he says, something stinks here. You know, the implication is that he needs his diaper changed.



DOBSON: ...yeah. If you want to do a positive ad, you put your kids in it. And if you want to a negative ad, you put a baby...

YOUNG: Make someone a kid.


CARROLL: You - right. You put the baby...

DOBSON: ...your opponent, right.

CARROLL: ...right, identify it with the opponent.

DOBSON: Well, OK, lets turn to Louisiana, which has an open primary on election day. So there is still some time until then. But Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, has already got ads running. She's running an ad featuring her father, Moon Landrieu, former Mayor of New Orleans. Lets listen.


MOON LANDRIEU: When you have nine children, you're bound to have one who's hardheaded.

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: Dad, you're one to talk.

LANDRIEU: I know how BP felt when Mary fought to get billions for Louisiana.

LANDRIEU: It was their mess.

LANDRIEU: And when she took on the president to approve the Keystone pipeline.

LANDRIEU: It means high paying jobs for Louisiana.

LANDRIEU: And now as chairman of the energy committee, those other Senators better get ready.

LANDRIEU: Oh, they are.

LANDRIEU: And now you know why Putin won't let her into Russia.

DOBSON: You know, it's funny, she goes with her father instead of her brother who is the mayor of New Orleans right now.

CARROLL: Right. And there's a particular reason I think for that. One, is to latch onto the family brand. But also, Moon Landrieu is a really beloved in the black community in Louisiana because he opened up the city of New Orleans to blacks as city employees. He opened up the contracting for them. So she needs a high turnout from the black community to retain her seat. So that's one of the things that she's trying to do.

YOUNG: Well, lets keep with the family theme but go to Alaska, Senator Mark Begich, Democrat, like Landrieu he faces a tough reelection campaign. But his ad is narrated by his wife. And it's quite - it's powerful, lets listen.


DEBORAH BONITO: In Alaska, you go as far as it takes to see the people. And while we love having Mark at home, we know we share him with every Alaskan, like his father before him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Begich goes to the people, where ever they are, to properly understand individual problems.

BONITO: Mark was 10 when he lost his father.

UNIDENTIFIED: In Alaska, bad weather again hampered...

BONITO: We've lost too many Alaskans this way. But Mark is clearly his fathers son. And there's no where he wont go to listen and stand up for Alaskans.

YOUNG: A compelling story, she also has a lovely voice.

CARROLL: She does, yeah, she does. And it's an interesting story. Nick Begich, who was Mark Begich's father, was a rep for 22 months until he disappeared in a - what is presumed to be a plane crash in 1972, along with the House Majority Leader at the time, Hale Boggs.

So he's playing off that legacy. There's file footage of airplanes flying around Alaska. He's trying to tap into that, again, to just strengthen his image among the people.

YOUNG: A story that resonates with Alaskans.

CARROLL: Absolutely.

YOUNG: They've lost more than one lawmaker in a plane crash.

CARROLL: Yeah. Absolutely.

YOUNG: Yeah, yeah.


And it also, just hearing all of this, John, makes me think that, you know, his good budget cutting - good budget cutting idea is, if you've got all these people winning, you won't have to print up new name plates in the Senate because they've probably got them in a closet somewhere.

CARROLL: Yeah, no doubt, no doubt, yeah.

HOBSON: Their fathers and grandparents. John Carroll, HERE AND NOW media analyst and a mass communication professor at Boston University. We've got a link to his campaign outsider blog at our website, John, thanks for coming in.

CARROLL: Thank you.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.