Why Senators make bad presidential candidates

Real Clear Politics put the boot into Senator Robert Byrd recently, on the issue of filibusters in the Senate. The specifics of the issue need not concern us here.

The problem for Senator Byrd, or Senator John Kerry, or Senator John McCain or any other Senator with the sort of experience to be considered a viable presidential candidate is simple. In two terms of office a Senator clocks up twelve years of speeches, letters and votes on the Senate floor or in committee. He or she may block legislation or propose a panacea that turns out to be a curse.

All of the issues that a Senator concerns himself with are either national policy, or can be presented as self-serving. Either way it is open to criticism.

Let us assume for one moment that Senator Byrd were to run for the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2008. Every single vote in committee or on the floor of the Senate, every letter to a constituent, becomes a potential soundbite against him.

Contrast this with a Governor. He or she has no international or national political responsibilities. The track record is typically over a four to eight year period of office. There are fewer hostages to fortune. The Governor can display a leadership style, and employ a Cabinet, all of which is better preparation for the image of a President. Better still, a Governor has to guide legislation through the State legislature, a process not dissimilar to that of the President. Any executive skills will show up. So a successful Governor (especially one who beat an incumbent from the other side) from a significant State will always have the edge of a Senator in a dirty fight.

So the solution for Senators would seem to be to run for one term or to stand for president during the second term, as former Senator John Edwards did and Senator Hillary Clinton might be considering. The problem in the case of the then Senator Edwards of North Carolina is that he didn't get the nomination for President, as Vice-President he didn't deliver North Carolina to the John Kerry campaign, he is out office, and his Democratic nomination successor for the Senate in North Carolina lost. What this means is that by 2008 he will have been a one-term Senator from a state his Party has given up on, and one without a particularly memorable record to boot. Or as a cynic might put it: a has-been mediocrity, in short.

Whether by chance or design, Senator Clinton's timing looks good. She can run for re-election in 2006, hopefully win the race, giving plenty of media exposure. Or she can stand down and generate a frenzy of speculation about when she times her declaration of intent.

If either Party, Republican or Democrat picks a Governor to fight a Senator, it looks like a foregone conclusion. But right now, both sides seem set to pick Senators.