Maureen Reagan—and Other Political Offspring—Find Not All Voters Like to Take on Heirs

updated 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

As any pollster would testify, name recognition can be one of a political candidate's greatest assets. By that measure, a 41-year-old Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from California should be halfway to Capitol Hill by now: Maureen Reagan. But as Maureen and other scions of political families are discovering (see following pages), a famous name can be a mixed blessing. Struggling to make headway in the nine-candidate Republican field for the June primary, Maureen feels the problem keenly. "She's a darn good candidate," insists her political consultant Lee Stitzenberger. "What Maureen needs is for people to view her as her own person instead of as the President's daughter. She's very bright and articulate, if she can just get out from under her father's shadow."

Maureen Reagan's campaign is faltering in part because her father has cast long—and dark—shadows over her candidacy since before it started. In an informal press conference at his California ranch last summer, the President was asked whether his daughter intended to contest the seat held by Republican incumbent S.I. Hayakawa. His instant response: "I hope not." The President insists his glib one-liner was just that—but both sides agree he has damned her campaign with no praise. "He is neutral," Maureen insists. "Ronald Reagan has never been involved in anyone else's primary but his own." Other relatives are being equally unhelpful. Maureen's relationship with her stepmother, Nancy, has always been distant, and the President's brother, Neil—who gave Maureen away at her third marriage last spring in lieu of her wounded father—is now co-chairing the campaign of another Republican senatorial candidate, San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson.

In Maureen's eyes, the unkindest cut has come from her father's staff. Talking to the Sacramento Bee, White House political adviser Ed Rollins rated her chance of defeating the likely Democratic nominee, Jerry Brown, as zero. "She has the highest negatives of anyone I've seen," Rollins said. "Her campaign has not caught fire and she has serious financial problems."

After an angry Maureen called her father, Rollins was reprimanded. Yet it's true that her campaign has failed to attract much money or support. "She's having a hard time building a base among Republican voters," says Ed Salzman, editor of the political magazine California Journal. "She appeals primarily to feminist Democrats. I think her candidacy is all but dead." With her paid staff gone, she has enlisted her 29-year-old husband, Dennis Revell, an ex-law student with no political experience, as campaign manager. "It's not that he doesn't have brains," says one observer of the race. "But it takes a lot of experience to be an effective campaign strategist."

Maureen, moreover, seems to be tiring of her uphill struggle. At a luncheon in Washington for the National Women's Political Caucus two weeks ago, she seemed downright cranky, even grumbling out loud when that old campaign standby, roast chicken, was served. Her co-speaker, New Jersey senatorial candidate Millicent Fen-wick, was late, and Maureen showed her peeve as she dined alone at the head table. When the elegant Fenwick's late arrival lured photographers and the attention of onlookers, Reagan slammed down her napkin in annoyance. Only when the spotlight shifted back to her did she begin to enjoy herself with reporters. Asked if she'd be visiting her father to talk about her campaign, she wisecracked, "No, just 'Hi, I'm in town and I thought I'd stop by and say hello, how's the government housing?' " Until Maureen Reagan proves herself as a fund raiser and vote getter in his embattled home state, that is probably as close as their conversation will come to politics.

Nixon's niece

Though politics has not been kind to her family, Laurene Nixon Anfinson thinks it a worthy career. "We need to get involved—Uncle Dick instilled that in us," says the daughter of Nixon's brother, Donald. A mother of three and, like her uncle, a graduate of Whit-tier College, the 38-year-old candidate hopes to run for a new California congressional district that includes San Clemente. Though Uncle Dick is still popular there, pollster Mervyn Field says: "The polls show that even now there is a lot of controversy around the Nixon name. It's a very difficult and unusual race to call."

Hubert's heir

He may not look very much like his late father, but when Hubert Horatio "Skip" Humphrey III gets on the stump, his heredity is unmistakable. The enthusiasm, amiability and the phrases like "serving the public interest" and "caring for people" are familiar—and so is the sense that this man might never stop talking. Skip Humphrey, 39, a lawyer now serving in the Minnesota State Senate, is the Democrats' leading candidate for Attorney General. If he has not followed in his father's footsteps precisely—the elder Humphrey never held state elective office, for instance—he remains proud of HHH. Says Skip: "He provided a standard of caring anyone should be measured against."

Bush's big brother

His brother is Vice-President, but Prescott Bush Jr. says his father's reputation helps more in the race for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut. Prescott Bush Sr. held the seat for 10 years (1952-62); Junior says Dad taught his five children "to give back to the community and the country in the form of public service." A 59-year-old Wall Street insurance executive educated at Andover and Yale, "Pres" is running well against his onetime friend, Sen. Lowell Weicker, a Reagan critic. George Bush is staying out of it. "I have neither encouraged nor discouraged my brother," he said of his childhood tiddledywinks partner. "It's his decision."

Tip off the old block

Beleaguered Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill isn't the only member of his old-line Democratic family with political problems. His son and protégé Thomas P. O'Neill III, 37, who has been a popular Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts under the last two Governors, is trailing both of them in polls for this September's gubernatorial primary. Still, Tom III thinks his father's ample coattails will help him. "I can't imagine that the name has hurt me," he says. "I'd like to think that my father has a great name, and I'm going to build it up even further."

At the age of 8, Tom was passing out leaflets for his father's first congressional race in 1952. "You couldn't grow up in that household and not be weaned on politics," he says. Tom claims with some pride to have swung his father against the Vietnam War in 1967. The Speaker has offered his political clout and savvy for his son's campaign. "He's going to work very hard for me," says Tom confidently. "I can use him anytime he wants to come in." Personally, the O'Neills are close, but in political matters, Little Tip claims, each speaks his mind: "He's a father to me, and I'm his son and I love him. But he stands on his two feet and I stand on mine."

Baker's daughter shows off her genes

She is descended from four members of Congress, but the candidate whom 25-year-old Cissy Baker is pushing now is herself. The daughter of Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker is the front-runner in the Republican primary for a Tennessee congressional seat—and without Dad's help. "When you pull that lever, you're pulling it for Cissy Baker," she says. "That's very important to me. That's why I told my father to stay out." Still, voters will find it hard to ignore Cissy's bloodlines. One grandfather was the late Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen. The other, Howard Baker Sr., served 13 years in Congress and was succeeded after his death by his wife. When Cissy gave up her job as a television news editor in Washington to make the race, she set out across the district in Ev Dirksen's 20-year-old Chrysler—a family good luck charm. She stays in a different home every night "to find out what the people want." Alas, she finds she's following her father's act whether she likes it or not. "When I finally discover a place Dad hasn't been," she vows, "I'm going to put up a plaque. It will say 'Cissy was here first.' "

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