July 02, 2012 at 9:01 am
By Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Naples Daily News
Crowded primaries have candidates doing whatever it takes to make sure they stand out.
They raise more money, make more appearances and build bigger staffs than their opponents.
But a few local candidates may have a little something extra in their corner this election cycle: Their famous last name.
Two Republicans — Senate candidate Connie Mack and Congressional candidate Chauncey Goss — are vying for positions once held by their fathers. That’s not out of the ordinary, and election experts said that following in a family member’s political footsteps could give a candidate the upper hand come election day.
“Look at the past 50 years of American history — (it’s filled with) names like Kennedy, Bush and Clinton,” said John Knowles, an elections expert and Ave Maria School of Law spokesman. “There’s no question that these families develop a brand for themselves.”
Mack is one of six Republicans vying for the same seat in the Senate that his father — also named Connie Mack — held from 1989 to 2001. The elder Mack was succeeded in office by current Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Goss is one of six Republicans battling it out to replace Mack in Congress. Porter Goss, the former CIA director and Chauncey Goss’ father, held the position from 1989 to 2004.
That political pedigree can help candidates out come election day because voters instantly recognize their name, Knowles said.
“The reason I think it matters and helps candidates is in the early stages you’re trying to get your name out,” he said. “You’re trying to convince people you’re a somebody. The biggest benefit is that he or she gets a big boost in name identification right away.”
That instant name recognition already may be helping Mack. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Mack was favored by 40 percent of Republican voters. Mack is believed to be buoyed in part by the famous name he shares with his ex-senator father and his great grandfather, the baseball Hall of Fame manager.
Former Sen. George LeMieux and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister both polled below 10 percent. LeMieux recently announced he was leaving the race and said he’d support Mack.
It’s not just name recognition that can help candidates who come from a long line of candidates. Just like a name is passed down from generation to generation, Knowles said crucial contacts often are handed down like a cherished family recipe.
But Susan MacManus, a political science professor at University of South Florida in Tampa, said candidates following in their family’s footsteps don’t necessarily get to coast through to Election Day.
“There are people that are very much against the idea that anyone is owed a seat,” she said. “People are really down on incumbents and (legacy candidates).”
MacManus said these candidates also need to be acutely aware of how their forefathers were perceived.
“If it’s a well-respected family … people that like the family will be more likely to say ‘Well, I liked the last bunch,’” MacManus said. “There’s every kind of scenario. Sometimes … the family members that preceded the current office holder may be positively received. (Sometimes they have) done things that seem to tarnish the name.”
The same name also could lead to confusion. LeMieux told reporters earlier this month that Mack the candidate isn’t the person Floridians are supporting.
“I’m running against 100 years of name recognition,” he said at the time. “But it’s not ‘his’ name recognition.”
LeMieux also cited name recognition as a factor in his decision to drop out of the race.
Both MacManus and Knowles said there’s no way to tell what role Goss and Mack’s political pedigree will play with primary voters. But both analysts said it likely will be one of dozens of factors voters take into consideration later this year when casting ballots.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.