If John Kerry wins the Democratic presidential nomination, history strongly suggests he’ll lose to President Bush in November. Here’s the telling statistic: In the past 21 elections, only five serving senators received their party’s presidential nomination, and only two of those—Warren Harding and John Kennedy—won the general election. Harding and Kennedy both ran in elections where there was no incumbent president standing for reelection. The other three senators that were nominated lost to sitting presidents: Barry Goldwater to Lyndon Johnson, George McGovern to Richard Nixon, and Bob Dole to Bill Clinton.
In the last 14 elections where the Democrats did not run an incumbent president, the party nominated a governor eight times, a vice president three times, a senator twice, and a former ambassador once (the anomalous 1924 nominee, John W. Davis, chosen on the 103rd ballot). The strong preference for governors in non-incumbent elections exposes the shallowness of the 2004 Democratic field. The only governor to run is Vermont’s Howard Dean, hardly a national leader before his campaign staff discovered blogging and Meetups.
The lack of a more prominent governor or governors is due to the fact the Democrats have no such figures. Before the 2002 elections, Democrats held the governorships of just two of the ten largest states, and one of those governors was California’s recalled Gray Davis. While Democrats did capture and hold five of these ten governorships in 2002, contemporary politics eschews new governors running for president. This gives Democrats a decent bench for 2008, but left them practically barren for this year. The result is a trio of mediocre senators, an unusually angry ex-Vermont governor, a retired general fired for incompetence, and Al Sharpton seeking the nomination.
A senator’s career consists largely of pandering to narrow interest groups and contradicting oneself on important issues. This is why senators tend to make poor national candidates. They lack the executive experience of a governor or a vice president, and they generally have a body of contradictory positions littering the Congressional Record. One reason Kennedy and Harding succeeded, I suspect, is that neither man compiled much of a record to speak of while serving in the Senate. By contrast, John Kerry has spent years trying to be all things to all people, and even a mild examination of his record will expose him as a fraud.