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Some political guidance comes from the mouths of babes

April 2, 2008 |  3:55 am

A minuscule slice of the U.S. population -- the children of big-shot politicians -- suddenly seems to have emerged as a major influence in the spirited Democratic presidential contest.

Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, in shifting from a neutral position to an endorsement of Barack Obama, said support for the Illinois senator among his four daughters influenced his decision.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who followed Casey's lead and signed up with the Obama team, had this to say in a conference call with reporters Monday: “To continue to stay silent would be, as my 12-year-old daughter, Abigail, likes to say, ‘Awkward, Mom, awkward.’ ”

Obama obviously appreciates these shows of support (every superdelegate counts at this point in the race). But his campaign may want to consider suggesting to backers that they put a lid on calling such attention to their kiddies. Astute strategists that they are, his advisers assuredly recall that perhaps the most famed reference to a child in contemporary politics didn't work out so well.

It was during the second half of President Carter's one and only debate ...

with his Republican challenger in the 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan, that the incumbent offered this comment:

"I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry -- and the control of nuclear arms."

Carter's intent was to humanize an issue that, as he said a few seconds later, he viewed as the "single major responsibility" of a president. He went on to question Reagan's commitment to arms control.

But his invocation of Amy, who had just turned 13 at the time, as a policy counselor was poorly received (even though this was before Comedy Central was around to widely ridicule the comment, or even cable news networks to endlessly replay it).

In part because of this moment -- and in part because Reagan succinctly asked voters to ponder his now-famed question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" -- the former California governor emerged as the clear winner of the Oct. 28 rhetorical face-off. And a few days later, what most analysts had assumed would be a close election broke decisively his way.

Don't expect Obama to emulate Carter with forced campaign mentions of his two daughters, Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6.

-- Don Frederick