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Four political dynasties are on the ballot in Dixie this November. But instead of the sons following in their fathers’ footsteps, it’s the daughters of prominent Southern politicians who are running for high office. In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, daughter of former US Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA), is running for the US Senate. In Florida, Gwen Graham, daughter of former governor and Senator Bob Graham, is running for Congress. In Kentucky, Allison Lundergan Grimes, daughter of former state Democratic chairman and state representative Jerry Lundergan, is running for the US Senate. And in Louisiana, US Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu (D), is running for reelection.


The South is no stranger to inherited political success. In Arkansas, US Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), son of the former US Sen. David Pryor (D-AR), is seeking reelection this year.  In the past, in Virginia, Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind-VA) was elected to US Senate in no small part because he was the son of the illustrious Harry Flood Byrd (D-VA). The same dynamic vaulted Herman Talmadge (D-GA), son of the populist governor Eugene Talmadge (D-GA), into the US Senate. Ditto for Russell Long (D-LA), son of the powerful and near-revolutionary governor and senator Huey Long (D-LA), and Al Gore (D-TN), who became a senator, vice-president and presidential nominee, in the wake of his father, US Sen. Albert Gore (D-TN).


As for the prospects of Mss. Nunn, Graham, Grimes and Landrieu, all four have a fighting chance or better. Nunn is raising a big war chest, including contributions from Republican former colleagues of her father. Graham is out-raising her opponent, second-term US Rep. Steve Southerland (R). Grimes has actually been leading her prominent opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in the polls. (Jerry Lundergan, as a political infighter, has minuses as well as plusses for his daughter; in the 1980s, he was forced to resign from the legislature and his party post over legal problems, which were later overturned in court.) And Landrieu, while embattled by her state’s prevailing conservatism, has been stressing her efforts on behalf of Louisiana’s economy, including its oil and gas industry, and there’s talk she may get the endorsement of the US Chamber of Commerce, rare for a Democrat.


This pattern is not entirely new to political daughters. In South Carolina, Elizabeth Johnston Patterson (D-SC), the daughter of the late governor and US Senator Olin D. Johnston (D-SC), served in Congress in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


One twist on this pattern is that in Florida, former US Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) succeeded his mother, US Rep. Carrie Meek (D-FL), in Congress, something we are likely to see repeated in the years to come.


A famous name, particularly in the era before big money and television made it possible to buy name ID, was an automatic plus in politics, and not just in the South: witness the Kennedys. But even today it’s a big help, in part because voters attribute the virtues of the father to the sons, and now the daughters as well. We feel the daughter or son may have good genes, or at least grew up in a political household that taught her or him the skills necessary to be a good officeholder.


But that four daughters of Southern political figures should all be running this year is a significant phenomenon and points to several trends in Southern politics. The first, and most obvious, is that “women’s lib,” if you will, has taken hold, even in the nation’s most tradition-bound region. That means that today, if the daughter of a well-known Southern politician has political ambitions, she is probably just as likely to forge a political career as her brothers might be.


The second trend, at least for this year, is that the political daughters are all Democrats. There are noteworthy Republican women in Southern politics, including governors Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, and in the past, US Sens. Paula Hawkins (FL), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)



In any case, it might be a good year for women to run for office, because Congress “is a mess and it is male dominated,” says Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. Indeed. Stay tuned.


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