Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
January 9, 2015 1:45 PM EST

It’s hard to cast yourself as a populist when you’re running for president. These days, most of the candidates for the White House are in pretty good shape, financially, so they tend to reach back a generation to soften their image a bit.

One-time vice presidential and presidential candidate John Edwards used this to great effect. A multimillionaire trial lawyer, he took every opportunity to note that he was the “son of a millworker.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren has similarly skipped calling herself a former Harvard professor, instead noting that she’s a “janitor’s kid.”

But the trick doesn’t work for everyone. Below, here’s a look at how the major presidential contenders could refer to their parents’ occupations, in order of most to least effective. Descriptions in quotes are ones they’ve actually used in speeches or on their own websites.

Mike Huckabee: “Son of a fireman who worked a second job”

Rick Perry: “Son of tenant farmers”

Ben Carson: “Son of a single mother in a tough urban neighborhood”

Elizabeth Warren: “Janitor’s kid”

Bernie Sanders: “Son of a paint salesman”

Chris Christie: Son of a receptionist

John Kasich: “Son of a mailman”

Ted Cruz: Son of a pastor

Scott Walker: “Son of a pastor” / “son of a preacher”

Jim Webb: Son of an Air Force pilot

Marco Rubio: “Son of immigrants and exiles”

Bobby Jindal: Son of immigrants

Rick Santorum: “Son of an immigrant”

Hillary Clinton: Daughter of a textile businessman

Martin O’Malley: Son of a lawyer

Rand Paul: Son of a congressman / son of an obstetrician

Jeb Bush: Son of a former president

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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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