The Era of the Senator

The esteemed Dan McLaughlin among others has promoted the idea that Governors are better choices for President than legislators are. And for years, the parties and the electorate seemed to agree. But with cable news and the Internet creating a perpetual conversation about national political issues, we’re now seeing the rise of the Senator as Presidential candidate.

I’m not saying Governors are finished, but the era of the Senator is upon us.

To steal Dan’s schtick, I went ahead and made a colorful chart of the post-war nominees, penciling in Hillary Clinton for the Democrats this time, looking at their last elective offices:

Post-War Nominees by previous elective office

Notable to me is how much Dan’s view is probably shaped by that 20 year run from 1976 to 1992 in which every single nominee was a sitting Governor, sitting President, or a sitting/former Vice President. Additionally, bookending that era were Senators Goldwater, McGovern, Dole, and Kerry. Put together, that’s a 44 year span of complete failure for Senators to get anywhere in Presidential politics.

But that time has passed. Sure, from 76 to 92 we had the incumbent administration on the ballot 5 of 10 slots, Governors 4 of 10, and a former Veep the remaining nominee. Since then though, we’ve had 11 slots (including the very likely Hillary Clinton). Only four represented the incumbent administration (thanks to VPs Cheney and Biden not running). Two were governors, and five were Senators as their last elective office.

Senators are taking over. As I said above, I think the changing national conversation on politics is the reason for this. Before cable news, it was local newspapers that drove the daily conversation on politics. These papers were steeped in local, state, and national politics, so everyone’s views of the national scene were from a slightly different perspective. Sure, the nightly news on television was there, but it was more of a news magazine. It was never as complete of a picture, nor was it the play-by-play we get now.

It was only in the 90s that cable really took off. And sure enough, it was in 1996 when Bob Dole kicked off the era of the Senator. National news has more reason to talk about Senators than about Governors. They’re national figures, in a way that Governors tend to be statewide figures. We know them better, they have more opportunity to address national issues, and they are able to develop followings better as a result.

Presidential nominees will always have a small sample size, but I think in the present climate, we’d better get used to nominating Senators for President.

Photo by Travis Crawford on Flickr