Hopefuls proudly trotting out progeny

GOP candidates emphasize families

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum embraces his wife, Karen, surrounded by their children in Iowa. He has seven children, the same number as Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the race.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum embraces his wife, Karen, surrounded by their children in Iowa. He has seven children, the same number as Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the race.

PITTSBURGH -- Rick Santorum? Seven. Mitt Romney, five. Ron Paul, five. Jon Huntsman, seven. Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich? Two and two. Michele Bachmann, three gazillion -- five or 28, depending on how you're counting.

We're not talking point spreads in polls, but children.

This year especially, fertility appears to be a political asset, with more children of Republican presidential candidates on the campaign trail, it seems, than voters.

At one point in the race, you could count 33 among the seven contenders, not even including Ms. Bachmann's 23 foster children.

Even as the field was winnowed to five this week when Mr. Huntsman dropped out, there are still many political progeny left.

There's nothing like a minivan or two full of kids to help with the photo-ops, star in campaign ads, door knocking and -- these days -- using Twitter and other social media to advocate for the cause.

"Has seven children -- one from India, one from China," crowed an early Huntsman campaign ad.

Does size really matter? Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- each with two children -- are still persevering with their campaigns.

But there is no denying that there are larger families out on the campaign stump this year.

As the GOP's base has steadily moved to the right, candidates who are socially conservative, both in their political views and religious affiliations, flooded the field to oppose President Obama, father of two.

Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Huntsman are highly active in the Mormon Church, and Mr. Santorum is a staunch Catholic. Both faiths are intensely family centered; the Mormons call on adherents to "replenish and multiply," whereas Pope Pius XII called large families the "most blessed by God."

Still, late-night comedian Conan O'Brien has noted that the GOP presidential wannabees seem particularly kid-obsessed this year, airing clips by the GOP candidates announcing how many children they had -- with Ron Paul, an obstetrician, announcing, "I've delivered more than 4,000 babies."

"The second you put a brochure out there with your family and dog, you present yourself as a family-values candidate," Doug Heye, former communications director for the Republican National Committee, told Roll Call. "It can be a positive thing. It's another surrogate, but it's the best kind of surrogate that a candidate can have because it comes from a person that knows the candidate in a way that most don't."

Decades ago, the Kennedys used their large clan to great effect, but it's probably safe to say that the younger Kennedy generations have not reproduced at the same rate.

Large families are effective imagery in politics, say political experts, especially for conservatives, sending a potent message -- I am a father/family man; I am supermom. I don't believe in abortion. My kids are well-mannered and obedient; they're not out smoking dope or protesting at Occupy Wall Street.

"Visual cues matter. Candidates like to present their families as evidence that they've done a good job on child rearing and their kids have turned out OK," said Darrell West, vice president of governance at the nonprofit Brookings Institution in Washington.

The sight of all those children lined up behind mom or dad giving a concession/victory speech can be heartbreaking or heartwarming. Who can forget the sight of Mr. Santorum's daughter Sarah Maria, clutching a doll and weeping when he lost his Senate seat in 2006?

Some believe large families are narcissistic and unethical in a world struggling with overpopulation and increasingly scarce resources.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an outspoken social commentator and father of nine, noted on a blog at WorldNetDaily in 2006 that "the contempt shown to parents of many children is the last acceptable prejudice in our society. … As a father of a large family, I find myself apologizing wherever I go, as if I committed a crime."

"People who have a lot of children, that represents a certain values system," he later told the Daily Beast.

"They love kids and love what kids represent," he told me. "When I see parents who have made the time for children, that's something I respect."

Still, Rick and Karen Santorum -- whose children range in age from 3 to 20 -- went on what they called an "epic" family tour as they barreled across Iowa this summer.

"Candidates only have a certain amount of time to travel the country, but if they have a spouse or older children they can double, triple, or quadruple the number of campaign appearances," Mr. West said.

"Family members are authentic because they can speak about the personal and policy side about a candidate. Voters want to know the human side of an individual."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mackenzie Carpenter is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Mackenzie Carpenter at: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, or 412-263-1949.