The abundance of sitting senators running for president seems to confirm the old joke that a senator looking into a mirror sees a future president. But it doesn’t say much about whether the Senate is a good springboard to the White House. Historically, it has not been.
Sitting senators have underperformed in contests for presidential nominations, with only three of them moving directly to the White House — Warren Harding, John Kennedy and Barack Obama.
As University of Wisconsin political scientist Barry Burden wrote in a 2002 Political Science Quarterly article titled “United States Senators as Presidential Candidates,” the Senate “has seldom been the presidential incubator or nursery it ought to be given the ambition, visibility, resources, and records of both current and former members of the institution.”
But that has not stopped a horde of senators from jumping into the 2020 Democratic race for president.
So far, six of them are pursuing White House bids: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Ohio’s Sherrod Brown could well join the field, and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley ultimately decided not to run after considering bids.
Once again this year, senators are getting the lion’s share of the attention.
Part of this has to do with the national media’s familiarity with them, but, as Burden points out, senators have many…