Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Saturday, 23 February 2008

Wannabe first daughters woo youth vote

By Jude Sheerin
BBC News

A US television network's recent suspension of a correspondent for suggesting Hillary Clinton had "pimped out" her daughter, Chelsea, to win votes has cast a spotlight on the role played by would-be first daughters on the campaign trail.

Chelsea Clinton
Ex-first daughter Chelsea Clinton is campaigning for her mother, Hillary

Debate has raged in the blogosphere over whether MSNBC was right to take action against reporter David Shuster for his comment - he later apologised twice - following a complaint by Hillary Clinton.

White House hopefuls' daughters were traditionally wallflowers wheeled out occasionally to help project a cosy family image.

But a new breed is now taking centre stage to harvest the coveted votes of that once elusive demographic, the MTV Generation.

Rising youth vote

After declining nearly continuously for three decades, young voter turnout in America has been on the increase since 2000 and is forecast to go up again this year.

There are nearly 44m 18- to 29-year-old citizens in the US and more than 20m of them voted in 2004 - 4.3m more than in 2000.

The showing of under 30-year-old voters at polling stations over the past two months in primaries and caucuses has quadrupled in some states since the last primary season in 2004.

Barbara (R) and Jenna (L) Bush
The Bush twins got into trouble in connection with underage drinking

Twenty-somethings Chelsea Clinton, Republican front-runner John McCain's daughter, Meghan, and Mike Huckabee's daughter, Sarah, are all making an impact on the stump this year.

Groups that encourage youth poll participation, like Rock the Vote, believe the involvement of candidates' young adult offspring in campaigns has been crucial to combating ballot apathy.

Rock the Vote spokeswoman Chrissy Faessen said: "It's absolutely critical to have these young people out engaging young voters in college campuses and other places."

The American Association of Political Consultants believes the candidates' daughters can also significantly boost their parents' popularity with voters.

Party girls

Spokesperson Cathy Allen said: "This is the year of the young voter and these articulate young ladies are excellent role models who are bringing politics to their peer group.

"It also impresses voters to see a presidential candidate has done well in their most important job - as parents, raising their children right."

But these precocious young women do not always hit the right note on, or off, the campaign trail.

Alexandra Kerry
Alexandra Kerry made headlines in a see-through dress at Cannes

US President George W Bush's daughters, first twins Barbara and Jenna, cracked jokes at a Republican convention during his re-election campaign in 2004, although their gags did not win rave reviews.

Worse still, the twins' brushes with the law in connection with underage drinking once provoked a national debate in the US on young people and alcohol.

They are, of course, not the first party girls to grace 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Theodore Roosevelt's daughter Alice was a self-proclaimed hedonist with a love of bawdy jokes, while Ronald Reagan's rebel daughter, Patti Davis, posed nude for Playboy.

Meanwhile, ex-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's daughter, Alexandra, caused a stir in a see-through dress on the red carpet at Cannes in 2004.

Tasteless gag

Of all the current White House candidates' children, Ms Clinton is the only one to have experienced the pressures that come with being part of America's First Family.

She is said to have inspired the 2004 film Chasing Liberty, in which a first daughter longs for free-spirited adventure away from the gilded cage of the White House.

The film's heroine at one point complains to her screen father in the Oval Office: "You had that restaurant swarming with all your Secret Service. You ruined my date, and now I'm going to die before I ever get to third base!... I mean, second."

Alice Roosevelt

Ms Clinton was largely shielded from the limelight during the presidency of her father, Bill.

But as a teenager with frizzy hair and braces, her looks were ridiculed by US comedy show Saturday Night Live.

And she was reportedly the butt of a tasteless gag by John McCain at a Republican fundraiser in 1998.

The Arizona senator is said to have told guests: "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is [former US Attorney General] Janet Reno." Mr McCain later apologised.

Ms Clinton has since matured into a fashionably dressed professional with flowing blonde hair and high heels.

And the 27-year-old has been working hard as a political surrogate telling voters why she thinks her mother, Hillary, should be the next president of the United States.

'Sociopathic woman-hating'

The Stanford and Oxford graduate was accused of politicking on Super Tuesday for bringing doughnuts and coffee to a Connecticut polling site that opened while she was visiting.

And the blogosphere was abuzz this month with speculation that the former "first kid" had circulated on e-mail an essay by radical American feminist Robin Morgan on why women owed their votes to Mrs Clinton.

Sarah Huckabee (YouTube)
Sarah Huckabee is her father's national campaign field director

The essay charged sections of the media that have criticised or mocked the New York senator with "sociopathic woman-hating".

Despite her prominent role on the trail, any journalist who goes near Ms Clinton is brushed aside by vigilant Democratic aides.

She was recently criticised for turning away a nine-year-old reporter from Scholastic News who approached her in Iowa to ask a question.

Guy Branum, who as a California student journalist in 1997 had his apartment searched by Secret Service agents after he wrote a satirical column threatening Ms Clinton, believes the former first daughter should face up to public scrutiny.

"What has been ignored is the degree to which [the Clintons have] dragged Chelsea in front of the cameras any time they need to look like a family, deflect talk of Bill's extramarital affairs, or now, shore up Hillary's flagging support among voters under 30," Mr Branum wrote in a blog recently.

Street cred

Meanwhile, Sarah Huckabee has even more of a leading role in father Mike's campaign - she is the former Arkansas governor's national field director.

The 25-year-old - who has two older brothers - has won plaudits for her remarkable handling of a cash-strapped White House bid that has defied pundits and pollsters alike.

And Meghan McCain, 23, is up for an award for her hit blog about everyday life aboard her father's campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express.

While Ms Clinton tells voters how fiscally conservative her mother is, Ms McCain shares make-up tips and playlists of music from her favourite pop stars, like Kanye West and the Ramones.

Meghan McCain (Picture:
Meghan McCain is up for an award for her political blog

Observers say the blonde has reinvented the political blog (it has just been nominated for an online industry gong as "best e-campaign") and brought some much-needed street-cred to her 71-year-old father's White House bid.

Despite having been dismissed as a bimbo, Ms McCain graduated from Columbia University with a degree in art history and has undertaken internships at Newsweek and Saturday Night Live (former tormentor of Ms Clinton).

Rachel Larimore, of, praised the online campaign diary, saying: "She's reaching out to young voters without making it seem like work."

Ms McCain says the idea for her blog was inspired by Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.

In his classic account of the White House race of 36 years ago, the late gonzo journalist wrote: "The kids are turned off from politics, they say.

"All they want to do these days is lie around on waterbeds and smoke that goddamn marrywanna."

The current crop of would-be first daughters, so far, seems to be proving him wrong.

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