We Could Nominate a Senator You Know

by Mike on February 6, 2007

in Politics

This is a topic that is starting to bug me. One pearl of conventional wisdom starting to gain traction is the idea that a sitting United States Senator cannot win a Presidential election. This conventional wisdom relies on the fact that no sitting senator has won the Presidency since John F. Kennedy. Although this assertion is true, it is nothing more than coincidence.

Four sitting Senators have been nominated by one of the major parties after 1960: Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Bob Dole, and John Kerry. None of them were elected; however, the reasons for their defeats have nothing to do with the position they held.

Goldwater was defeated in 1964 by John F. Kennedy’s politically brilliant hand-picked successor in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination. Moreover, Goldwater was tarnished as an extremist by the MSM before there was an alternative media to defend him. These are the reasons Goldwater lost. It was not because he was a Senator.

George McGovern was defeated by Richard Nixon in the landslide of 1972. During his first term, Nixon had successfully represented the concerns of the silent majority following our national circus that was 1968. The short term forces were strongly aligned against any Democrat in 1972. The fact that the Democrats nominated McGovern turned their inevitable defeat into a landslide. McGovern was a socialist before socialism was cool. Minimum income guarantees and defeat during a time of war are not the ingredients of a winning platform. These are the reasons McGovern lost. It was not because he was a Senator.

Bob Dole was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1996. The economy was in good shape. The media was in the tank for Clinton at a time the new media hadn’t fully established itself. A conservative third party candidate was also on the ballot. Worse, Bob Dole looked like a corpse. These are the reasons Bob Dole lost. It was not because he was a Senator.

John Kerry was a loser before 2004, he was loser during 2004, and has been a loser ever since. Kerry was and remains an abrasive, left-wing dork incapable of consistently maintaining any position other than his disdain for our troops. Kerry did not lose because he was a Senator. He lost because he is a loser.

Because elections are not a everyday events, coincidences occur. The coincidences have ranged from pre-election football games, to the World Series, to fashionable hemlines. The curse of the Senators is merely the latest coincidence.

Part of the reasoning underlying this theory is the nature of the job. Senators must vote and take positions on issues. This reality, it is argued, prevents Senators from clearly articulating their vision and exposes Senators to the “flip-flopper” label. I concede that Senators must vote on legislation which contain both items they support and oppose; however, Governors have the same problem. Governors are required to sign or veto legislation containing items they both support and oppose. The same pitfalls are in play.

All one needs to do is look around to see the evidence contradicting the Senate curse theory. There are many articulate Senators who cannot be tagged with “flip-flopper” label. Senators are often the most effective advocates for their causes. No one will ever accuse Rick Santorum, Jeff Sessions, or Tom Coburn of being inarticulate or a flip-flopper. Heck, even the late Paul Wellstone fit into this category. (His liberalism, not his office would have cost him the Presidency had he lived).

The weaknesses of the Senators running in the Republican party stem from their convictions and/or character, not from the fact they are Senators. John McCain passed legislation in violation of the First Amendment in order to get favorable media coverage. This speaks to his character, not to his office. Sam Brownback supports a non-binding resolution opposing our troop surge. This speaks to his policy positions, not to his office. In fact, when it comes to vacillation, the repeat offender running for President on the Republican side is a recent Governor.

Opposing the Senators running for President is a legitimate position and probably the correct one. Our lot of Senators running this year is woefully unimpressive. Opposing them merely because they are Senators however, is completely different. The curse of the Senator is nothing more than superstition. It should not affect our votes.

Even if there was something to this theory, the curse would be lifted this year anyway because the Democrats will nominate a Senator too.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous February 6, 2007 at 1:29 pm

The whole “senator curse” thing is just media spin. Kennedy is still recent history…and as you pointed out…there is a very good chance both the Democrats and Republicans will be running an active senator for president. One wonders how the curse will play out if it is John Edwards (a former senator) on the ticket for the Democrats? What’s the track record of former senators running, I wonder…or of people not holding any active public office spot?


Ryan February 6, 2007 at 4:23 pm

I’ve also heard that Senators have a problem letting go of certain aspects of their campaign that Governors can. Governors have much more experience having a message and delegating to others to getting it across. Senators love the minutia and this wallowing in the detail may make them seem wishy-washy, or in the very least, make them less able to react quick to criticism or changing political conditions. It is very important to define your opponent and react quickly in campaigns.


Mike February 6, 2007 at 6:32 pm

Santorum isn’t in love with minutae. Ted Kennedy’s delegation skills are extraordinary. In terms of letting go, Dole and Goldwater could, Kerry couldn’t. Goldwater and McGovern weren’t wishy-washy. Kerry and Dole were. Again, it’s the candidates themselves, not the office they hold. It’s a coincidence. The evidence does not suggest there is anything unique about Senator that can harm a campaign.


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