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Families Make Politics a Tradition

WASHINGTON - Voters in New Mexico will encounter a familiar name on the June primary ballot for governor: Pete Domenici Jr., son of the state's former senator Pete Domenici.

The younger Domenici, an environmental lawyer, has no political experience, but when he announced his candidacy last week, he said he's prepared to lead the state of 2 million because he "witnessed good governance" by observing his father, a 36-year Senate veteran.

The Republican is among the political offspring hoping to break into the family business or seek higher office this year. It's an American tradition from John Quincy Adams to George W. Bush that gives political novices an edge.

"You have access to your father's Rolodex and a certain advantage among people who recognize the name on the ballot," said Stephen Hess, whose book, America's Political Dynasties, tallied 700 families with two or more members who served in Congress.

Others seeking office:

- Chris Cox, 30, a grandson of President Nixon, announced Thursday that he will run for the House of Representatives in New York's 1st District. Cox, a Republican, has never held elected office.

- Rand Paul, son of Texas congressman and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul, is seeking the Republican nomination for Senate from Kentucky. It's the first political bid by the 47-year-old Paul, an ophthalmologist.

- Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, is running for the Senate. Her grandfather served in the House. Her late father, Mel, was a two-term Missouri governor, and her mother, Jean, was a senator. Brother Russ is in the House. Seeking the Republican nod: Rep. Roy Blunt, father of former Missouri governor Matt Blunt.

- Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek, elected in 2002 to the South Florida seat held by his mother, Carrie, is running for the Senate.

- Democrat Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is running for Nevada governor. His dad, who is seeking a fifth Senate term, is also on the state's ballot.

- Republican Paul Thurmond, son of late Sen. Strom Thurmond, is running for the House from South Carolina.

- Ethan Hastert is seeking the Illinois House seat once held by his father, former House speaker Dennis Hastert. The younger Hastert received a $10,000 contribution from his father's political action committee.

The children of politicians can easily tap into their parents' pools of donors for an initial cash infusion that "instantly spurs their campaign and permits them to hire staff and do fundraising at a much faster rate" than competitors, said Kent Cooper, a campaign-finance expert.

In cases where multiple relatives hold office, giving to the junior family member can earn contributors "Brownie points with the senior member," he added. "If you are a lobbyist or from an interest group, it's beneficial to continue to contribute to the family to ensure your access."

Rand Paul, whose father broke single-day Internet fundraising records in his White House run, said he has raised more than $800,000 online, helped by his father's national following. He led the GOP field in fundraising during the third quarter of 2009. Fourth-quarter reports are due later this month.

"There are many advantages to being related to someone who is famous," Rand Paul said. "But the thing you have to do is prove yourself, become your own candidate."

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