If you mussed up the hair a bit, these five women onstage could be one of those late-'90s girl-power bands, Sleater-Kinney maybe, the kind that rock out and look hip and also hate Bush. Or maybe a theater production of "Sex and the City," each girl representing an exaggerated female type: There's Vanessa Kerry, the one with the luminous skin and regal nose who's clearly the leader. Her sister, Alexandra, the reserved artistic type who's trying to hide although she's the tallest. Young, raven-haired Cate Edwards just making her debut. And the Gore girls, Karenna and Kristin, the beautiful brainiacs who are now blissfully private citizens.

In the ceremony of the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former president Bill Clinton have passed the proverbial torch to Kerry. Wednesday afternoon, in a small trendy bistro in Cambridge, the Gore girls do the same for their successors, ceding the role of cover-girl Democratic daughters and dispensing some veterans' advice.

"The role is a whirlwind and also incredibly bizarre," says Kristin Gore. "You can talk about your dad in ways only you can do. Like you can tell reporters about the time he helped you memorize all the Beatles albums in chronological order, and God help you if you say 'Magical Mystery Tour' came before 'Sgt. Pepper's.' "

Chelsea Clinton never really had this experience, since her parents kept her under wraps most of their time in office. The Bush twins are only this summer coming out, and in a controlled, carefully orchestrated way. But for the Democrats, this year brings an abundance of offspring. Not only the Brady Bunch union that is the Kerry-Heinz marriage -- the two daughters, plus sons Andre, 34, Chris, 31, the elusive John, 37 -- but also Cate Edwards, 22, and (in a rerun of Camelot) her younger brother and sister, Jack, 4, and Emma Claire, 6.

The Kerry sisters will make their big debut tonight when they introduce their father. If his convention speech is intended to humanize him, then they are the human humanizers, family guardians of his lighter side. When they appear at events with him the effect is like Valium; the candidate relaxes, laughs, as Vanessa leans her arm on his back.

The two sisters have been briefed on subjects ranging from health care to the war in Iraq. They've each done solo events for the campaign for a couple of months now. They've sat for a lush Harper's Bazaar photo spread showing Alexandra kneading her bare foot. They've cheerfully deflected endless prying questions this week from reporters wondering about their mother ("she chooses to be more private") and whether they get along with stepmother Teresa ("actually we introduced them").

Still, they are winging it. Fundamentally Vanessa, 27, is a medical student, her sister is an actress and a filmmaker, and neither is feeling particularly ready for prime time.

At the brunch Alexandra, 30, said six words onstage: "I'd like to introduce Cate Edwards." End of speech.

"Thank you for that lovely introduction," Edwards joked back.

At one point Vanessa moved up to speak and bumped into Alexandra. "I'm a little nervous," she said. "That's already not a good sign for tomorrow night."

"To be totally candid, I am scared. . . . I mean, I am," Vanessa said at a breakfast with reporters on Tuesday. "This is a big adventure."

In the fall when her father was still a footnote in the race, Vanessa could convince herself she was only dabbling. "I could go to a primary state, I could campaign, and I could come back to my life," she said.

Now, she's taking a semester off, and there's no question that this is her life. "There are things that you want to be sacred. You want your friends, your private jokes," she says. "And suddenly that seems to be shifting in a way that I'm not sure one can ever prepare themselves [for]."

None of them can hide anymore. Cate Edwards has already had her first awkward political moment, when she ran out of things to say at a Rock the Vote event, and the moment showed up in the Los Angeles Times (although at the brunch everyone agreed she was shockingly poised). She and her younger siblings are now trailed by Secret Service, so they can no longer casually drop by friends' houses, and their parents have asked reporters to keep the location of the younger kids' school a secret.

By Wednesday, the Kerry girls were worn out enough by their newfound celebrity to cancel all their early morning events.

The Gore girls have already been there and are glad in many ways to be out. The hardest moments, Kristin says, are the transition years, teenage, or just out of college, as Cate Edwards is now -- "that's when you're trying to define an identity, decide what you want to be." Kristin says she knew she wanted to be a writer -- her first novel is coming out in September -- so she mostly ducked out of campaign duties so as not to be defined solely as Al Gore's daughter.

And there are the endless interviews: "You have to repeat yourself over and over. And you don't want to. You really want to say something original."

After the campaign Karenna Gore Schiff took a rebound job at a law firm, which she's since left. She is writing a book about women who accomplished political change. This convention for her has been fun, free from the stress of performing, or even from the anxiety of what could have been, she says. She's here only for a couple of days, so after the party she can have a midday drink and catch the next plane home.

Sisters in the political spotlight: Alexandra Kerry, left, and Kristin Gore at a Cambridge luncheon. At top, Alexandra Kerry, left, laughs with Kristin Gore. Below, Cate Edwards, left, Vanessa Kerry and Alexandra Kerry at a Cambridge luncheon.Kristin Gore, left, dispenses I've-been-there advice to Cate Edwards.Above, Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry campaign in earnest: "To be totally candid, I am scared," Vanessa said. At left, Cate Edwards and Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry at a Cambridge lunch.