I just got online and checked the news. And a news story out today disturbs me a great deal. It says that Illinois Senator Barack Obama may be eyeing a White House run in 2008.
Now, I see two things wrong here. And that is to take nothing away from the Junior Senator from Illinois, a man who I greatly admire. He is a bit too far to the right for me to support for the nomination but I'd have no problem supporting him if he were the Democratic nominee.
Here is the first thing I see wrong with this story. Obama did his party a disservice by discussing it now instead of three weeks from now. Today is fifteen days before the election. As Democrats we need to be focused on winning this election (an election that is still very much up for grabs) over the next fifteen days. This just isn't the right time to be worrying about who will run for President in 2008. Not even a little bit. If we do, we risk being like the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, a baseball team which began printing World Series tickets with two weeks left in the season, forgetting that they still had a pennant to win. Or maybe more like the 1983 Chicago White Sox (since Barack is from Illinois), a team that was thinking ahead to the World Series so they let their pitchers bat instead of using a designated hitter in the ALCS. Note that St. Louis represented the NL in the 1964 World Series and Baltimore represented the AL in the 1983 World Series. We have an election to win in the next fifteen days and that should be 100% of our focus. I guarantee you that it is 100% of the focus of the GOP. I honestly think that the Republicans can't win the election at this point, but we could still lose it, and wasting time thinking about who will run for President in '08 is a big step in that direction.
The second thing I see wrong is that Obama is a Senator. Senators get a lot of news coverage from the D.C. reporters, and many of them, especially Democrats, develop the disease of wanting to run for President. This hurts Democrats in the Senate. In 2004, no less than four sitting U.S. Senators (Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards and Graham) sought the Democratic nomination to run against President Bush. The last two on that list were actually up for re-election to the Senate in 2004 so they had to give up their Senate seats just to run. Graham could easily have been re-elected in Florida had he decided to serve one more term in the Senate instead of making an ultimately fruitless Presidential run; Edwards would have had more trouble in North Carolina, but he'd have probably been a stronger candidate than Erskine Bowles. In the end both seats went Republican. So this year, Democrats face an uphill climb to take the Senate, a climb that would have been much easier if we had one or two more Senate seats on our side to start with. Further, Senators who run for President and are unsuccessful often lose in their next try at the Senate (i.e. Frank Church, George McGovern and Birch Bayh.) No mystery why-- voters in their states expect a Senator who will work for their state and their individual interests, not some wannabe President. And running for President strains their networks of donors, volunteers and other supporters often past the breaking point-- so if they lose, the next time they run for Senate they may not have the organization waiting for them that they are used to. For that matter, in addition to the Edwards and Graham seats, Lieberman was clearly weakened by his failed Presidential candidacy. There are a lot of reasons why LaMont won the primary, and according to the polls Lieberman may get back into the Senate anyway as an independent but his Presidential run certainly didn't help him among Connecticut Democrats.
2008 looks to be a train wreck of Democratic Senators seeking the Presidency. Senators Bayh, Biden, Clinton, Feingold, Kerry and now Obama have all suggested that they might run. In a word, I hope they don't.
Further, in addition to the mathematical fact that at most one can win, the historical facts suggest that a Governor is a much more likely candidate. Governors are seen as strong, executives who show leadership in their states. Senators on the other hand have a reputation for sitting around, giving grand speeches and not accomplishing much. Maybe not fair but that is the view of many people of Senators vs. Governors. Further, Senators have hundreds of votes about thousands of bills containing millions of words, so it is very easy to cast any Senators as a 'flip flopper' or worse. Governors mainly issue executive orders and sign (or veto) legislation. But a signature or a veto is easier to justify than some line tucked way down in a bil that a Senator may vote on without having read. In 2004, Governor Howard Dean was way ahead of the field before questions about his temperment led to a John Kerry win. If he'd avoided getting sucked into the sewer in a negative ad war with Dick Gephardt that turned voters off to both of them in Iowa, and then avoided the 'Geography lesson with Howard Dean scream,' the chances are he'd have won the nomination ahead of all those Senators. When he didn't, the voters were forced to choose a Senator. However, despite the recent withdrawal from the race of former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, there are likely to be at least two legitimate governors running: Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Most likely if they share the field with six Senators one of them will jump out in front first, and if that Governor is found lacking, the other one will most benefit. What is important is this: In 2008, as well as in 2010, Republicans will have many more seats to defend than Democrats. If we don't take the Senate in 2006 (or even if we do) we will have a sterling opportunity to lock down control of the U.S. Senate over the next two elections. But we have to not louse it up by running so many Senators for President.
Think TEAM, guys, TEAM!