2012 White House race may lose one tradition: candidates from the Senate

February 23, 2011

Barack Obama did it. So did Joe Biden, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and scores of others. They all ran for the White House while sitting members of the U.S. Senate.

The 2012 presidential campaign, however, may feature for the first time in more than a half-century no U.S. senators. USA/

John Thune had been the only current senator openly considering a run. But he announced on Tuesday that he’s decided instead to stay put.

“At this time, I feel that I am best positioned to fight for America’s future here in the trenches of the United States Senate,” the Republican senator from South Dakota declared in a statement.

Perhaps one reason that no other senator is publicly mulling a White House run is that Congress’s approval rating is at only about 25 percent.

Another factor may be the anti-Washington fervor that helped give birth in 2009 to the anti-establishment Tea Party movement that has ripped into both Democrats and Republicans and prompted many voters to look outside the nation’s capital for new leadership.

Still another reason may be that so few senators over the years have succeeded in the presidential race.

In fact,  Obama in 2008 became the first sitting senator since fellow Democrat John Kennedy in 1960 to win the White House.

Despite decades of futility, an old adage has persisted for years on Capitol Hill,  giving lawmakers of all ages eternal hope.  It goes like this:  Every time a senator looks into a mirror, they believe they see a future president.

“That  (presidential) wish didn’t come true for a half century,” said Paul Sracic, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University.   “The reality is that senators don’t do well in presidential campaigns.”

“What Americans look for in a president is someone with administrative experience, management experience,” said Sracic.  “That isn’t what you necessarily get in the Senate. Other than your office and staff, you don’t manage or administer anything.”

While senators have generally done poorly in presidential races, governors who have managed and administered their states have excelled in recent years in White House bids.

In fact, among the past six presidents, four were governors: Republican George W. Bush (Texas), Democrat Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Republican Ronald Reagan (California) and Democrat Jimmy Carter (Georgia).

Leading contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination include a number of  past and present occupants of state houses across the country:  former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney,  former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour,  and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Presidential motorcade outside White House)

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