What's in a name? Would a Kennedy smell as politically sweet if he—or she—were named Jones or Smith? Probably not, say those who are paid to know. "Name recognition is half the battle," says political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. "It can't elect you, but it can get you on the ballot and taken seriously." Still, coming from a famous family is no guarantee of victory, as numerous presidential relatives have learned. "You can't do it on name or marriage alone," says political analyst William Schneider. "If it looks like you're just coasting on the name, it can backfire." This season, five candidates with well-known relatives hope to convince voters they have more to offer than family connections:

MALCOLM FORBES JR. President of the United States

Although eight other candidates are running for the Republican presidential nomination, Malcolm "Steve" Forbes Jr. is said to be betting up to $20 million of his estimated $1.3 billion family fortune that there's room for one more. That's despite the advice of his father, Malcolm Forbes Sr., the late magazine magnate who twice lost bids to be New Jersey's governor. "He wholeheartedly recommended against going into politics," says Forbes, 48, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine and the eldest of Malcolm Sr.'s five children. "He thought it demanded too much of one's energy and time."

The younger Forbes is a conservative's conservative. An avowed supply-sider, he is promoting a return to the gold standard, a system some believe wards off inflation. He also wants a universal flat income tax of 17 percent to "virtually get rid of the IRS," he says. "It would remove a major source of political corruption and manipulation in this country."

Forbes lives in tony Bedminster, N.J., with his wife, Sabina, a homemaker, and their five daughters. Voters, says Forbes, "will judge you as yourself, not by your parents or grandparents. It may get your foot in the door, but the rest is up to you."

EMILY COURIC Virginia State Senate

It happens a lot. When the Democratic candidate for state senate from Charlottesville, Va., greets voters at festivals, raffles and pig roasts, people remark on her resemblance to Today host Katie Couric. The reason for that, candidate Emily Couric, 48, has jokingly responded, "We have the same parents!"

Emily's kid sister has kept a low profile in the campaign. But there is no question whose side she is on. "People like candidates who are real and whom they can relate to," says Katie, 38. But the family resemblance has helped to put Emily in a dead heat with the conservative incumbent Ed Robb (who is not related to Chuck Robb, the state's junior U.S. senator). "The fact that Katie Couric is perceived as sweet and cheery helps her sister," says pundit Sabato.

Couric, a freelance author of two books on the legal profession and the oldest of four siblings, lives in Charlottesville with her second husband, George Beller, 54, a cardiologist, and her two sons, Ray, 22, and Jeff, 19, from a previous marriage that ended in divorce. A former high school science teacher, she honed her political skills by-serving six years on the Charlottesville school board. "There's no more demanding constituency than parents," she says.

JESSE JACKSON JR. U.S. Congress

As field director of his father's National Rainbow Coalition, Jesse Jackson Jr., 30, knows all about having a famous dad. "I inherit all of my father's friends," he says, "and his enemies."

Now Jackson hopes to show he's his own man by winning the Nov. 28 special primary to fill the Chicago congressional seat vacated by Mel Reynolds, who resigned Oct. 1 following his conviction for sexual assault and solicitation of child pornography. It is not going to be easy: He faces tough competition from several political veterans. The second of five children born to the civil rights leader and his wife, Jackie, also a rights activist, Jackson studied business and played free safety at North Carolina A&T, his father's alma mater. After earning a degree at the Chicago Theological Seminary, Jackson graduated from the University of Illinois Law School in 1993 and now lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife, Sandra, 31, a lawyer. "My father thinks I'm overly statistical and technical, and I think he's overly emotional," Jackson says with a laugh. "Between us there's a happy medium." Jesse Sr.—who waged two unsuccessful campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination—agrees. "I learn from Jesse Jr.," he declares. "I study him and I study with him."

SANDY LIDDY BOURNE LINDA 'TODDY' PULLER Virginia House of Delegates

As a teenager, Sandy Liddy Bourne wanted nothing to do with politics. After all, her father, Nixon aide G. Gordon Liddy, spent more than 52 months in prison for his part in the Watergate burglary. But all that changed on June 11, 1993, when Marine Gunnery Sgt. Dale Fredericks, a close family friend, was murdered by a carjacker in Fairfax County, Va. Bourne and her husband, Bryan, a master sergeant who served in the President's Marine Band with Fredericks, were shaken. But when the accused killer received two life sentences with a chance for parole after 25 years, Bourne changed her mind about politics, and she is running as a Republican for the Virginia House of Delegates.

If elected to represent suburban Fairfax County, where she lives with her husband and their three children—sons Daniel, 7, and Sean, 6, and daughter Rebecca, 4—Bourne, 36, plans to advocate tougher sentences for violent crimes. "Our world is out of control," she says, "and I don't want to lose any more friends."

Though Liddy has used his syndicated radio show to promote his daughter's effort, he plays down any role in the campaign. "What I mostly do is stuff envelopes and put stamps on them," he says.

Bourne's opponent, two-term Democratic incumbent Linda "Toddy" Puller, 50, has her own illustrious name. Her late father-in-law Lewis "Chesty" Puller was a legendary, much-decorated general in the Marine Corps. Her husband, Lewis Jr., won the Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam War memoir Fortunate Son and committed suicide in 1994. A popular legislator, Puller is ignoring the hype surrounding her opponent. "I'm going to do exactly the same thing I've always done," she says, "I'm going to work very hard."

DAVID ELLIS
JENNIFER MENDELSOHN in Virginia, BARBARA SANDLER in Chicago and MARIA SPEIDEL in New York City

  • Contributors:
  • Jennifer Mendelsohn,
  • Barbara Sandler,
  • Maria Speidel.