The American political system established in the 18th century dispensed completely with hereditary political positions as a matter of right, rejecting the genuine power held by the hereditary monarch and aristocracy at the time. Despite this republican form of government (with a little r), the American voting public has shown a strong preference for political dynasties. Some critics fear that this tendency, combined with phenomenally high re-election rates for incumbents in the United States Congress, has created a de facto aristocracy in America, despite its formal status as a republic.
Hillary Clinton is the runaway favorite in the ridiculously early Presidential preference polls of Democratic primary voters at large now (as opposed polls of the issue oriented political insiders who tend to read blogs like Daily Kos), and also owes her seat of a U.S. Senator for New York State, in significant part, due to her link to Bill Clinton’s political dynasty. George W. Bush won the Republican Presidential nomination, and Jeb Bush won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Florida, in part on the strength of voter loyalties to their father. Until recent times, most of the women who made it into Congress were widows of husbands who had held the same seats.
Colorado is no exception, a fact apparent in the dynamics of this year’s primary races.
When I spoke with Democrat Cary Kennedy about her candidacy for State Treasurer last weekend, she acknowledged that her name was a factor in the race. Some people are inclined to vote for her simply by virtue of her name, while others have sent her hate mail simply out of distaste for the liberal members of the Massachusetts political dynasty, without regard to her positions on any issues in this race, or even whether she is closely related to the clan that includes John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy (she isn’t).
A political dynasty is a factor in the 7th Congressional District primary. Some voters are attracted to Peggy Lamm because her last name was shared by former Democratic Party Governor of Colorado Dick Lamm, even though her name derived only from her ex-husband who is a relative of the former Governor. This isn’t uncommon worldwide. Several prominent members of India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, for example, also have had thin blood ties to the patriarch of that family. Voters seem to find almost any family tie sufficient to provide a comfort level.
Gordon and Bridges
Peggy Lamm isn’t the only one turning the lemon of a divorce into political lemonaide. While not exactly matters of political dynasties, both Democratic Secretary of State candidate Ken Gordon, and two time Gubernatorial candidate Rutt Bridges (in both cases in very short campaigns culminating in a withdrawal from the race) have touted endorsements from their ex-spouses.
And, in Colorado’s 32nd State Senate District, centered in Southwest Denver, Chris Romer derived considerable political capital from residual loyalty towards his father, former Colorado Governor Roy Romer.
Salazar and Udall
John Salazar, incumbent candidate for the Democratic party in the 3rd Congressional District was first elected in a Republican leaning district in part on the strength of his brother Ken Salazar’s political popularity as attorney general, and has tended to vote very similarly in the U.S. House to Ken Salazar in the U.S. Senate where he now represents Colorado.
Mark Udall, the incumbent candidate of the Democratic party in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Boulder, and announced candidate for Wayne Allard’s Senate Senate Seat in 2008, is likewise a part of a Western State political dynasty.
The Impact of Dynasties in Current Races.
While much of the polling data in these races has been limited to political insiders or unreliable leaks, it is widely believed among political insiders that both Peggy Lamm and Chris Romer have done well in polling among likely primary voters, in part because they haven’t had to invest in creating name recognition. Likewise, Chris Romer’s yard signs, at least, are nearly identical to those used by his father in his races to be Governor of Colorado. Political dynasties have been a factor in both the 7th C.D. and S.D. 32.
This doesn’t mean that the other candidates in these races are chopped liver. Ed Perlmutter, a long time state legislator within the area that is now in the 7th C.D. is running a viable Democratic primary campaign for the 7th C.D, and Herb Rubenstein has also made the primary ballot, injecting the complexities of a three way contest into the race.
Chris Romer has serious competition in the race for Senate District 32, left vacant by Dan Grossman’s decision to run again, despite not being term limited, from political activist and former C.U. Regent candidate Jennifer Mello, and State Representative Fran Coleman.
Indeed, both the 7th C.D. race and the S.D. 32 race are remarkable for the extent to which they have spread far beyond the actually boundaries of the districts in question. Mello and Romer signs and t-shirts are common place far outside of S.D. 32 in metro Denver. The 7th C.D. race is one of the most watched in the nation. Both Mello and Romer are drawing on strong financial and volunteer support from outside S.D. 32.
The 7th C.D. is one of the most likely Democratic pickups from Republicans in 2006. It was evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters when formed, the last contested race was decided by just a few hundred votes, and the district has been trending Democratic in a year when the fates seem to be shining on Democrats generally. State Senate District 32 is a fairly safe Democratic party seat.
Dynasties and Civility
The presence or absence of political dynasties in Colorado primaries doesn’t seem to have any relation to how much mud is getting slung in these races.
The race for the 7th Congressional District is a race whose nastiness is second only to the six way Republican primary in Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, and the Republican Gubernatorial nomination race between Bob Beauprez and Marc Holtzman that Beauprez ultimately won.
Lamm’s campaign has tried to make a big deal out of support that Perlmutter has received as a legislator from the oil and gas industry. Lamm has won an endorsement from nationally influential EMILY’s list, which supports progressive women running for office, and has tried to position herself as an advocate for consumers in the race.
Perlmutter’s campaign, and independent advocates in the race, have accused Peggy Lamm of being a carpet bagger as she only recently and tentatively established a presence in the district. Lamm has also been accused of not complying with rules applicable to candidates, of supporting Republicans in prior political campaigns, of having her own ties to the oil and gas industry. Perlmutter has been the candidate of the Democratic party establishment in the 7th C.D., as the most experienced state legislator with the most long standing ties to the district in the race.
Herb Rubenstein, meanwhile, has mostly worked, with some success, to avoid being completely marginalized in the race, despite his small war chest. He has run as a progressive, grass roots oriented technocrat in the race.
In contrast, the S.D. 32 race has not been characterized by mutual attacks on the character of the participants. Instead, the candidates have largely played fair, mounted massive name identification/visibility campaigns, and stuck to issues (upon which they don’t differ greatly) and assertions of each candidate’s own positive character traits, rather than attacks on each other. Romer touts his experience as a businessman, Mello is a tireless and enthusiastic campaigner and rising star in party, and Coleman brings legislative experience to the race.