For more than two decades, it was hard not to find either Strom Thurmond or Carroll Campbell Jr. on a South Carolina election ballot. One was the state’s long-serving U.S. senator and the other was a well-liked Congressman and governor. Voters may see those names returning
to political circles over the next
18 months — the Nov. 2, 2010, ballot could very well have two Thurmonds
and two Campbells on it.
There’s an inherent value in name recognition, particularly when that name comes with memories of strong leadership and conservative S.C. principles. But there’s a flip side to seeking public service in the shadow of your father, where every step isn’t just critiqued, it’s compared to the man with the same last name and two very big shoes to fill.
Carroll Campbell Jr. announced earlier this month that he was weighing a primary challenge against fellow Republican Congressman Henry Brown. Mike Campbell ran and lost a close race in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor in 2006, and he’s seriously considering another run for the same office next year. Strom Thurmond Jr. has spent the past few years as a solicitor in the Aiken region. His brother, Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond will be up for reelection next year. Both have been encouraged to run for higher office in 2010, with some suggesting that Paul Thurmond should run for Henry Brown’s seat if the congressman retires.
“The South in general has had this pattern of families involved in politics,” says Bill Moore, a political science professor at the College of Charleston.
The Bush family is certainly the most prominent, but even they weren’t the first presidential dynasty. South Carolina examples also include Michael Hollings, son of long-time U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, who made a brief run for lieutenant governor in 2006.
And then there’s the Lowcounty dynasty of former Congressman and current Charleston County School Board member Arthur Ravenel Jr. and his son, former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, who left office six months after his election due to an indictment and eventual conviction on drug charges.
And, while “Bush” or “Ravenel” may not be winning names right now, it hasn’t tarnished the brand of political sons following in the footsteps of their political fathers.
There’s immediate publicity in a famous political name, Moore says, but the son still has to show the same political prowess as his father, if not more.
“They end up with more scrutiny,” he says. “You’re in the shadow of your father. You’ve got to measure up.”
Mike Campbell had been weighing a run for public office for years before he ran in 2006 for the state’s No. 2 job.
Campbell says his father included his sons in his work, taking them to press conferences and public hearings and letting them watch him in his office.
“He was excited and proud to show his boys what he was doing,” Campbell says.
That excitement eventually led Campbell to make his own run.
“I knew I could touch on what I had grown up around my whole life when I decided to become a candidate,” he says. He has tapped into contacts and relationships he developed through his father, as well as experiences and context that he gleaned through his father’s political career.
Campbell once asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about running for office with his father’s last name.
“He told me that when he first ran, he was obsessed by it — determined to distance himself,” Campbell says. Bush lost that first race by 0.4 percent. “He told me, ‘I learned to embrace my heritage and who I am.'”
Choosing to serve on county council, Paul Thurmond took a somewhat unusual route to public office compared to other sons of famous politicians. Others have shot high — Mike Campbell, Michael Hollings, and Thomas Ravenel all went for statewide office in their first campaign.
Thurmond says his father’s lessons about politics and his encouragement toward public service came in his actions, not his words.
“You have to be somebody who is accountable to the people,” Thurmond says. “That’s what I believe my father did, and that’s what I believe I do.”
Both Thurmond and Campbell understand the political challenges to running for office with their names and the pressure that comes with that.
“I’ve had to deal with that all my life,” Thurmond says. “The expectations have always been very high.”
There’s also the charge from campaign opponents that all you’re doing is running on your father’s good name.
“But you know that going in,” Campbell says. “You have to go in there and demonstrate you’re capable and you have a realistic vision. People can see through it if you don’t.”
They may not address it directly. Heck, they may not even realize it, but the proximity to their fathers has also taught them lessons in politicking. Campbell talks about wanting to “contribute” and “make things better,” as well as his affinity for “helping people.” Thurmond also speaks of the enjoyment he gets when constituents send their thanks. Each of them bemoan candidates running for power or for a title — and it’s all actually more believable because they’ve seen the shallow pool of power and the heavy price that comes with a title.
“You’re very conscious of the impact it has on your family,” Campbell says, but he’s never wished his father did anything else. “He opened doors and created opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have.”
Come election night, it’ll be difficult to peel away whether it’s the man or the name that will draw voters to support a Campbell or a Thurmond. Whatever the case, each man will surely thank his father.
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