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May 09, 2012 11:40 AM Nepotism Update

By Jonathan Bernstein

It’s about time for another favorite: the likely changes in dynastic representation in the US Senate during the current electoral cycle.

The starting point is that over time dynastic politicians — those who had a politician in the family — have been gradually fading, at least at the Congressional level (see this study by Tom Schaller). That’s continued in the recent Senates. By my count, there were 16 dynastic Senators in the historic 111th Senate, not counting Hillary Clinton, who resigned near the beginning of the first session of that Congress. The current 112th is down to only 13. I should list them: two Udalls, and Rockefeller, Casey, Pryor, Manchin, Paul, Boozman, Kyl, Snowe, Landrieu, Begich, and Murkowski.

And it could drop lower in the 113th. Those last two dynastic Senators, Jon Kyl and Olympia Snowe, are retiring. So far, I can’t find any likely new replacements; the most likely that I found is Sarah Steelman, who has to win a tough primary first and then defeat Claire McCaskill.* If that holds, we’ll be down to only eleven Senators who entered into the family business.

Now, some serious caveats. The first one is that it’s still early; some states haven’t even had their filing deadlines yet, and it’s certainly possible that a candidate I’ve dismissed as having little chance will emerge as a winner. The second, and perhaps more important, is that my research basically consists of looking at their wikipedia pages. That should have any prominent politicians, certainly anyone who was a U.S. Senator or a governor, but it could easily miss less successful politicians. That’s especially true for current nonincumbent Senate candidates,   who may have particularly spotty wikipedia pages.

But overall…it looks quite likely that the long-term trend against family in the Senate is going to continue in the 113th Senate.

*I don’t count McCaskill as dynastic, but I do count Steelman; others might differ. McCaskill’s father was an appointed state insurance commissioner, and her mother served on a city council. It’s possible that there’s more that I don’t know about, and even with that I wouldn’t argue strongly against someone who classifies it the other way, but I wound up deciding against it. It’s a bit tricky to tell exactly what the story is with Steelman, but I believe that her husband was a politician when she married him, and before her own political career started; that makes her dynastic in my view.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
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