It came as little surprise last week when Doris Matsui announced, four days after her husband's funeral, that she would run for his seat in Congress.
If the widow is successful in succeeding her late husband, Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.), she will join a long list of lawmakers to follow relatives into office. With at least 18 senators, dozens of House members and several administration officials boosted by family legacies, modern-day Washington sometimes resembles the court of Louis XIV without the powdered wigs.
In Alaska, for example, Lisa Murkowski (R ) was elected to the Senate in November after being appointed to that position by her father, who vacated the seat to become governor. And in Illinois, Rep. William O. Lipinski (D) announced his retirement too late for a primary to be conducted, allowing him to persuade party elders to select his son, Daniel, to represent the comfortably Democratic district.
With names such as Boren, Mack and Carnahan, at least seven of the 41 new House members are relatives of prominent politicians. These legacies take office along with the newly reelected president, who is the grandson of a senator, son of a president and brother of a governor.
Dynastic families, and whiffs of nepotism, have been a part of American politics since John Adams made his son John Quincy Adams his envoy to Prussia. But what is striking is the endurance of American political legacies and the growth of new ones -- witness Hillary Rodham Clinton's move to the Senate as her husband left the White House -- even as other democracies move away from the perception of familial privilege. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has thrown out more than 600 "hereditary peers" in the House of Lords who earned their positions because of their birth.
Here, a seat in Congress is not a birthright, but the name recognition and political connections that come from having an office-holding relative are often enough to propel a candidate to office. "We've always had members of the same family serving in Congress right back to the beginning, but I notice more than there have been," said David W. Rohde, a Michigan State University political scientist. "It's a combination of name recognition and access to money."
The Brookings Institution's Stephen Hess, author of a book on political dynasties, sees a third factor: Children of politicians are often to the manner born, growing up with an expectation that they will lead. Indeed, the offspring often exceed their predecessors' achievements, as is the case with current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), daughter of one-time congressman and Baltimore mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. Likewise, former vice president Al Gore rose higher than his senator-father. "These people tend to be pointed in that direction," he said.
That is how Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) sees it. He is the sixth generation of Frelinghuysen to represent New Jersey in Congress, dating to 1794. "The link is the fact that one or both of your parents is very involved in the political system so you often would be a tag-along," he said, recalling parades and picnics with his congressman-father. "You sort of get it in your blood."
Blue blood is not required for political legacies; a number of those in Congress now are black or Hispanic: Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), son of former congresswoman Carrie Meek; Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), son of former congressman Harold Ford; Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Tex.), son of former congressman Henry Gonzalez; Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), daughter of former congressman Edward Roybal; Rep. William L. Clay Jr. (D-Mo.), whose father was a congressman; and Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), daughter of former Georgia state representative Billy McKinney.
As new legacies appear, others vanish. History is full of political families whose bloodlines have dried up: the Roosevelts, the Harrisons (William Henry and grandson Benjamin), the La Follettes, the Stevensons and the Cabot Lodges -- whose scion was defeated by John F. Kennedy, launching a new political dynasty.
President Bush, who rose to power with a famous political surname, has rewarded several children of his ideological allies. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's son became chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's daughter was made inspector general at the Health and Human Services Department, Justice Antonin Scalia's son was appointed to a top job in the Labor Department, and Vice President Cheney's daughter and son-in-law scored prestigious positions in the State and Justice departments.
Bush also chose the wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) to be his labor secretary, and the sons of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn as his press secretary and Medicare director. And in 2001, he chose former House member Asa Hutchinson, brother of then-Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Family names also carry clout at the state and local levels, and not just in Jeb Bush's Florida or Richard Daley's Chicago. Newly elected Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) is the son of U.S. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
The most extensive political pedigrees, though, are to be found in Congress.
In the Senate, no fewer than six current officeholders have followed their fathers in that body: Murkowski, Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.), Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn), Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). Five others had famous relatives in other high places: John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), whose father was governor and White House chief of staff; Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), whose father was governor; Mary Landrieu (D-La.), whose father was New Orleans mayor; John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), whose uncle was vice president; James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), whose father was chief justice of the state supreme court; and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), whose father served in the House.
Nepotism became an issue in Alaska for the Murkowskis in 2004, but Frank H. Murkowski was unapologetic when he appointed his daughter to the seat he held for 22 years. "I felt the person I appoint to the remaining two years of my term should be someone who shares my basic philosophy, my values," Murkowski said in 2002.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 45 women have been elected to Congress to fill vacancies created by their husbands' death. There are least three widows of former congressmen now in the House: Reps. Mary Bono (R-Calif.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.). In the Senate, there are three wives of prominent politicians: Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Clinton and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), wife of former Maine governor John R. McKernan Jr.
Congress also has at least three pairs of brothers: the newly elected Rep. John T. Salazar (D-Colo.) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), and Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) (sons of a former Cuban senator). Then there are the Udall boys: Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is son of former congressman and presidential candidate Morris Udall, cousin of Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) -- whose father was a Cabinet secretary -- and cousin of Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).
Not all have been successful in their bids to follow relatives to Congress. The son of then-Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), Brad, lost in a primary to succeed his father. Also last year, Republican Billy Tauzin III of Louisiana lost a race to succeed his retiring father, and in 2002, Scott Armey failed in the race to succeed his father, former House majority leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.).
But many in the House clearly benefited from political predecessors: Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), whose father was governor and mother was a senator; Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), whose fathers were senators; Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), whose father is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.); Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah), whose fathers were governors; Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.), whose grandfather was governor; and William Shuster (R-Pa.), Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), Charles Bass (R-N.H.), James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.), Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), whose fathers all served in the House.
"It certainly helps," to have his father's name and help, Lipinski said last week. But the new congressman, who has a doctorate in political science, notes that the legacy will get him only so far. "The primary comes up 14 months from now," he said. "If I'm not doing a good job, I'll be out."