Thursday, July 17, 2008

Which Senator Do You Want?

A fair amount has been written about how this year's presidential election will be the first in American history that matches up two current members of the U.S. Senate against each other in the general election.

But that's a bit misleading. There has been at least one streak of four consecutive presidential elections that matched up either current or former senators from both parties (1960-1972). None of the major-party presidential candidates during that period had been governors (though not for lack of trying on Nixon's part).

By contrast, between 1976 and 2004, only one presidential election was won by someone who was not a current or former governor (George H.W. Bush in 1988). Among those eight elections, of the seven times that the winner had gubernatorial but not congressional experience, six times he defeated a candidate with congressional but not gubernatorial experience.

Is there now a trend back toward valuing congressional experience?

All this might amount to no more than political trivia, which I think is fine because I enjoy political trivia. But if you can spot an Important Trend in all of this, please comment.

The criticism of senators who run for president is that they have foreign policy experience, but lack executive experience. The criticism of governors who run for president is that they lack foreign policy experience, unless you count the times they become commercial salespeople and lead trade promotion junkets to foreign countries.

In light of that, it would seem that the ideal candidate would have experience as both a governor and a senator. Depsite there being several politicians who fit that description, no president has had both gubernatorial and senatorial experience since Andrew Johnson, who was president from 1865 to 1869.

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