Dynasties demand jobs for the boys

FOR ALL its boasts of being a classless land of opportunity, the United States has a long tradition of grand political dynasties.

But the number of famous names on this year's ballot papers is highly unusual by any standards, with echoes of the past going back through Bush and Kennedy, all the way to William Howard Taft.

The most prominent of those running for office are the Bush brothers, sons of former president George Bush. George W Bush is running for governor of Texas and Jeb Bush for governor of Florida, and both could win. George W is guaranteed victory - the only questions are whether his margin will be nearer 30 or 40 per cent and whether it will spur him to bid for the presidency next time around.

This is a race the latest opinion polls say he could win easily over the likely Democratic candidate, Al Gore.

Jeb, who was narrowly defeated for the governorship four years ago, has a tougher task, but currently leads the polls.

Both are praised for their popular touch - a trait inherited less from their father than their mother, Barbara.

Senator Edward Kennedy's seat is not one of those up for re-election this year, and his nephew, Joe, (son of the late Robert Kennedy), decided not to stand for the governorship of Massachusetts, following rumours about a relationship with an underage babysitter, but that does not mean that the Kennedy name is absent.

Patrick, son of the senator, is standing for re-election to his congressional seat from Rhode Island, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (daughter of RFK) is up for re-election as lieutenant-governor (deputy governor) of Maryland, where her quietly competent handling of her law and order portfolio gives the beleaguered governor, Parris Glendening, hope of re-election.

In Minnesota, the son of former vice-president Hubert Humphrey - Hubert Humphrey III - took an early lead, but is now running neck and neck with the Republican contender for state governor.

In neighbouring Ohio, Bob Taft, great grandson of former president Taft, is well ahead in the race to become the state's next Republican governor and in Illinois, Jesse Jackson junior is standing for re-election to the US Congress.

While it fosters recognition, a famous name is not always an advantage.

Bob Taft's deliberate trading on his ancestry appears to be paying dividends. In Pennsylvania, however, the name has backfired on 32-year-old Pat Casey - son of a two-term state governor - who is accused of trying to capitalise on his father's reputation to go too far too fast. He is expected to lose.

And if George W Bush ventures outside his state to run for president, he may find name recognition cuts two ways. An opinion poll in June suggested that many non-Texans confuse him with his father - for better, and for worse.

In one respect, though, the proliferation of famous names this year has served President Clinton well.

The President, his defenders say, got where he got as Bill Clinton, without the help of someone else's name.