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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Footloose Presidential Field

Politico‘s Jonathan Martin makes a pretty interesting point today about one potential implication of Sen. John Thune’s decision not to run for president in 2012: This could be the first presidential election since 1904 without a sitting member of Congress in the mix.
He goes on to discuss various reasons for this development, including Tea Party antipathy towards Washington, and the advent of a younger conservative leadership cadre that’s not quite ready for the presidential campaign trail.
But he doesn’t mention another explanation that makes at least as much sense and applies to candidates who have never served in Congress: it’s a lot easier to run for president (unless you are the incumbent) these days if you don’t hold a full-time elected office.
After all, the presidential field in 2012 will likely include two candidates who have never held an office other than in Washington, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. And it could include a number of candidates who have ended or are nearing the end of service as governors (former governors Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin; Haley Barbour, who leaves office in Mississippi at the end of this year; and possibly Mitch Daniels, who leaves office at the end of 2012). What all these folk have in common is the time to get to know the fine citizens of early caucus and primary states. National conservative stars like Chris Christie, who is only in the second year of a first term as governor, or Marco Rubio, in his first year as a senator, have day job responsibilities that can’t really be shirked at this point in their careers. And at least one potential candidate, Mike Huckabee, may pass up a second presidential run because he has no way of supporting himself if he leaves his highly-paid gig at Fox News.
Having said all this, it’s possible that Rep. Michele Bachmann will wind up spoiling Martin’s scenario by running for president (in that case she would be bucking a historical trend even older than that of sitting congressmen running, in seeking to become the first House member since 1880 to get elected). And it’s worth remembering that five sitting U.S. senators (four of them Democrats) made the race in 2008.
Still, one suspects the wave of the future in preparing for presidential runs is probably represented best by someone like Newt Gingrich, who parleyed national fame gained in Washington to put together an impressive network of organizations and publishing outlets that paid the bills and gave the would-be president all sorts of excuses to go on television and press the flesh in places like Dubuque, Manchester and Charleston. And then, of course, there’s Sarah Palin, who may have set a precedent by leaving her elected “day job” without even completing a term, blaming the resignation on her enemies, and then “going rogue” as a national celebrity with no responsibilities more serious than those of, say, a Kardashian.

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