Like many of you, I dropped by Daily Kos to vote in their latest Presidential preference straw poll (to vote for Clark, as it happens), but I also left a comment there which included a pointer to an analysis posted here in January 2004, which concluded from the historical record that governors have a much better chance of being elected President than do senators.
Because of this we should seriously think about dropping Senators (who currently make up 6 of the 10 named contenders in the poll) from our consideration. Senators are just too vulnerable to attack because of their legislative records, and are also (as JTA remarks in a response to my comment) perceived as Washington insiders, which prevents them running as outsiders committed to making a change.
This is a topic I think we should return to in the next two years as the Democratic field winnows itself down, because the data seems undeniable. Looking at the 1314 Presidential elections since World War II (1952 - 2004), governors have a clear and distinct advantage over senators:
[click on graphic for larger image]
Both Republican governors who ran (Reagan and GW Bush) won, as did two (Carter and Clinton) of the fourfive Democratic governors (the others were Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, and Dukakis), giving a score of 4 out of 67 (6757%) for all governors. In contrast, only 1 (Kennedy) of the 3 Democratic senators won (McGovern and Kerry lost), while neither of the 2 Republican Senators (Goldwater and Dole) were elected, giving senators overall a score of 1 out of 5 (20%).
(I eliminated from consideration former senators, like Richard Nixon, who had achieved higher office in the meantime, and all minor party candidates, such as governor George Wallace, as well as incumbent presidents and vice presidents).
It's not a matter of disliking the senators currently considered to be possible candidates -- I myself like Edwards and Feingold -- but simply a matter of the inherent disadvantages a senator brings to the contest, disadvantages that a governor just doesn't have.
We really ought to give this some serious thought -- we cannot afford to lose in 2008.
In the period I looked at, there's not one instance of a Democratic Senator going up against a Republican Senator, nor is there an instance of a Governor (of either party) going against a Senator (or either party). We've had a President versus a Senator (4 times), a President against a Governor (thricealso 4 times), a Vice President Versus a Governor (twice), and a President against a Vice President, two Vice Presidents going head to head, a Senator pitted against a Vice President, and a General versus a Governor (each once).
[It's] worth noting that while incumbent Presidents have (as would be expected) a powerful advantage over their opponents (Republican incumbents are 4 for 56 in this period, while Democrats are 2 for 3, for a total of 6 for 89 for all incumbent Presidents), the twothree times an incumbent President has lost (Ford, Carter, Bush) it's been against a Governor, while an incumbent President has always beaten a Senator in this period.
[Corrections to this quoted material of mine made by me after the fact. -- Ed]
I agree with the objection made that the sample size is small (1314 elections providing 1112 examples), which means that my thesis can't be said to be proven by the data, merely that the observed trend makes it imprudent to ignore in our dangerous circumstances:
Going up against the vast and powerful Republican machine with its tame press corps and control of most of the mainstream media, we need every single possible advantage we can get, and it's foolish to deliberately hobble ourselves with a candidate who has inherent disadvantages.
With the country on the line, why take the chance that the historical record is an anomaly?
Addenda: Looking at the data overall, the best thing to be to insure your victory in a Presidential election is an incumbent President: they won 6 out of 89 contests in the post World War II period -- but if you can't be the President, the next best thing is to be a Governor:
President 6 for 9 0.667 [was 6 for 8 0.750] Governor 4 for 7 0.571 Vice President 2 for 5 0.400 [was: 1 for 5 0.200] Senator 1 for 5 0.200
The worst thing to be is a Vice President or a Senator.
Yes, the sample size is very small, but it's not like we can order up another experimental run to get more data, and extending the survey back in time would move us into historical eras that just aren't the equivalent of our own (post World War II is itself stretching things a bit). I'm not willing to bet the welfare of my country and help prove my case by continuing to throw Senators into the ring to represent my party, just to generate some more data points with their probable losses.
Update: According to count (in the dKos comment thread), in the entire history of the US, the only other sitting Senator aside from JFK to win a Presidential election was Warren G. Harding (in 1920).
Andrew Jackson lost the 1824 campaign while he was a sitting Senator. He resigned his Senate seat in 1825, hoping to improve his chance of winning in 1828.
He won in 1828.
Note: I removed from the text a mention of Strom Thurmond, a remnant from a first draft which included the election of 1948. I later decided to consider only post-World War II elections.
Important Note: I've just seen that I made a mistake and inadvertantly left out of my data crunching the results of the 1988 election, and partially mislabelled the results from 1992. I've corrected those errors now, and the point remains, if somewhat less emphatically so.
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