During the last century, the American people have shown a notable reluctance to elect sitting U.S. Senators to the nation’s highest office.
In 120 years, only two members of the Senate have succeeded in their campaigns to the White House. In 1920, the voters chose Warren Harding of Ohio, and in 1960 they selected John Kennedy of Massachusetts: both of them handsome charmers with a notorious eye for the ladies, both of them dead before their time in the midst of their first terms, and both of them mourned as fallen heroes in lavish displays of national grief. Today, we remember Harding far more contemptuously than he deserves and we recall Kennedy far more reverently than he deserves, but the unique status of the two of them remains unchallenged: as the only members of the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” elected directly to the Presidency since Indiana Senator Benjamin Harrison upset President Grover Cleveland in 1888.
During this same period, seven governors have triumphed in their bids for the White House – McKinley, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W, Bush. Meanwhile, prominent Senators (Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Bob Dole) ran some of most disastrous races in history, while former Senator (and former Vice President) Walter Mondale managed to lose 49 states (to President Reagan) in 1984.
This dismal record of Senatorial failure raises serious questions for three of the current front-runners in the campaign of 2008, with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain all holding seats in the Senate chamber (and all of them, coincidentally, re-elected or first elected in 2004).
The Democrats may be unable to avoid the “Senatorial Curse,” because the only other remaining contender (long shot John Edwards) is also a one-term Senator. Republicans, however, see McCain opposed by three candidates with the sort of executive background voters seem to prefer: two governors (Huckabee and Romney) and a famous mayor of the nation’s largest city (Giuliani). In evaluating the candidacies of sitting solons like McCain, should primary voters consider the potential impact of the long-standing “curse of the Senate”? Do governors or other administrators enjoy a natural advantage over those with exclusively legislative experience?