The candidates who are not

Dateline: 14 February 2007

What do you call someone who has been in the Senate as long as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama combined? What do you call someone who has as much experience in a governor’s mansion as Bill Richardson and Mark Warner combined – more, in fact, than George W Bush? What do you call someone who has won statewide five times in a state otherwise very inhospitable to his party and holds the record for the largest margin of victory by any member of his party in that state?

It seems that the Democrats call him a no-chance longshot. Evan Bayh has withdrawn his brief candidacy for the US Presidency, though he is still thought of as a contender for running mate, he is probably an outsider.

The three leading contenders for the Democrat nod in 2008 are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. All are serving or former US Senators. Yet Senators nearly always lose. Evan Bayh was a two-term governor of Indiana before being handily elected to the Senate twice. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama have never run anything larger than their Senate offices.

Mark Warner – a charismatic former governor of Virginia – has also withdrawn his candidacy. If a Senator gets the nomination a governor as running mate is a good bet, and Warner probably squeezes out Bayh, as he could potentially bring in a large swing state.

There are two governors still potentially seeking the Democratic nomination – Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Tom Vilsack the recently retired governor of Iowa. These are also both swing states – in fact they are the only two states which Gore won in 2000 but which Bush carried in 2004.

Vilsack, however, trails in polls for the Iowa caucuses. If he cannot win – and win big – in his home state his chances of winning the nomination are negligible. Richardson is seen by most commentators as the fourth placed Democrat – and perhaps worth a sly bet at some pretty long odds.

Richardson possesses the most impressive résumé of any candidate of either party. He has successfully run a state – albeit a small one. He has served in Congress, run Department in Washington (Energy) and has diplomatic experience as Ambassador to the UN as well. It seems surprising that a party would reject a candidate with this breadth of experience in favor of a freshman or sophomore Senator. Senators talk, but governors govern. Richardson incidentally can talk too – fluently, in both English and Spanish.

On the GOP side the top three candidates are very different. Mitt Romney was a state governor. Rudy Giuliani, of course, was a mayor, but mayor of a city with a larger population than Virginia or Massachusetts, let alone Iowa or New Mexico. If you accept that being a Senator qualifies someone to be President (and Common Sense does not) then John McCain is more qualified than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards put together.

Given the clearly established precedent that Senators nearly always lose the Presidency while governors usually win, why do the Democrats seem to be leaning towards a Senator again?


Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly

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