By nature, most politicians are risk-takers. One cannot enter the political arena without being willing to risk his name, family privacy, and, sometimes, fortune on the winds of political lady luck. As with most gamblers, however, most politicians fail to recognize the warning signs and either hold ‘em or fold ‘em. Senator Barack Obama’s selection of Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential candidate is the latest example.
Because Vice President Dick Cheney decided not to run for the presidency, the 2008 race is the first “open” election since the 1952 election when General Dwight D. Eisenhower defeated Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. Both candidates came from outside the Beltway. In 1956, they faced each other again and the outcome remained the same.
Since the 1956 election, only five presidential races have involved at least one candidate who came from a career outside the Beltway. All five races involved sitting or former governors. Those races were: 1976 President Gerald Ford v. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter; 1980 President Jimmy Carter v. former California Governor Ronald Reagan; 1988 Vice President George H.W. Bush v. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis; 1996 President Bush v. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton; and 2000 Vice President Al Gore v. Texas Governor George W. Bush. Of the five races, the Washington outsider won four out of five races, or 80%. Many attribute the lone loss (Dukakis to Bush) to the popularity of President Reagan (as in Bush won (re)election to Reagan’s third term).
The first history lesson, therefore, is that voters for the presidency prefer candidates from outside the Beltway. In the 2008 race, neither presidential candidate comes from outside the Beltway.
In the fourteen presidential elections from 1952 to 2004, only five elections included at least one candidate that was a sitting U.S. senator. Those races were: 1960 Vice President Richard M. Nixon v. Senator John F. Kennedy; 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson v. Senator Barry Goldwater; 1972 President Nixon v. Senator George McGovern; 1996 President Clinton v. Senator Bob Dole; and 2004 President Bush v. Senator John Kerry. Of those five races, the sitting senator lost four out of five races, or 20%. Many attribute the lone win (Kennedy over Nixon) to the involvement of fraud (as in 9,000 votes to Mayor Richard Daley’s Chicago Machine and 46,000 votes to Johnson’s Texas Machine).
The second history lesson, therefore, is that American voters for the presidency do not prefer sitting U.S. senators. In the 2008 race, both presidential candidates are sitting U.S. senators.
Matt A. Mayer, President & CEO of Provisum Strategies LLC and Adjunct Professor at The Ohio State University, is the author of the book “Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway” available in June 2009.