CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)
HED:Is nation ready for a senator in the White House?
By Fred Brewer
President Bill Clinton hasn’t finished the first year of his second term, and already people are wondering who will be the leading candidates in the next presidential election.
Vice President Al Gore, naturally, looks like the leading contender for the Democrats. Vice presidents are never shoo-ins for winning the presidency, but they are usually shoo-ins for getting the nomination in their party.
A name being bantered about quite a bit for the Republican spot is Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. That would be a nice twist – a current senator and a former senator from Tennessee running for president.
The problem is their connection to the U.S. Senate. The public might not be ready for another senator in the White House.
Thompson is serving in the Senate now, and the campaign-finance hearings he’s heading might hurt him more that help him, because they remind people of his connection to Washington.
And Gore is not only a former senator, but he’s the son of a senator. The Gores are a famous family in Tennessee, but they are even more famous in Washington.
At one time being a former senator would be a boost when running for president. In the last 17 elections, nine winners have come from state houses: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR, FDR, FDR, Jimmie Carter, Ronald Reagan, Reagan, Clinton and Clinton; five have come from the Senate: Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Nixon; two have come from the military: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Eisenhower; and one has come from the CIA, George Bush.
Senators and former senators dominated the presidential elections from 1960 through 1972. In 1960, Sen. Kennedy defeated vice president and former Sen. Nixon; in 1964, Mr. Senate himself, Johnson defeated the distinguished senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater; in 1968, former vice president and former Sen. Nixon defeated vice president and former Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey; and in 1972 – in probably the most infamous presidential election of all time – Nixon beat Sen. George McGovern.
Most of the problems the winners of these elections faced probably would have been the same even if the winners had come from state houses or the military. Well, maybe not the military. Both Eisenhower and Gen. Douglas MacArthur were against the United States getting into the Vietnam War.
But after years of one catastrophe after another, the public was fed up with Washington.
Some people said Carter came out of nowhere to win the 1976 election, but that isn’t true. He came from a state house that was a long way from Washington. That’s what the public wanted.
Carter might have won the next election, except the GOP wised up and ran its own state house candidate, Reagan.
The only candidate from a state house to lose a presidential election in the last 50 years to a candidate that wasn’t also from a state house was Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, in 1988. The mistake the Democrats made then was getting a governor from the Northeast – a region almost as unpopular around the rest of the nation as Washington.
The Democrats got it right,though, in the next election.
Two members of the Senate have won nominations in recent years, Walter Mondale in 1984 and Bob Dole in 1996. However, Mondale and Dole, like Goldwater in 1964, probably just had the nominations bestowed on them for paying their dues through the years.
Both parties would probably deny that nominations are ever used that way, but it’s mighty suspicious because none of the three ever sparked much interest from the national electorate in years when there wasn’t a sitting president running for re-election.
Right now the country is running about as smoothly as it ever has. We have a Republican Congress – but they don’t have a veto-proof majority in either house, and a Democrat president, who doesn’t have much power except for the veto.
One group is given most of the credit for forging this delicate balance in the 1996 election. Maybe we should ask the members of this group – the nation’s true political experts:
Soccer moms, is the country ready to have another senator in the White House?
Fred Brewer is assistant copy desk chief for the Daily Journal