During the past four decades forty-nine sitting members of Congress have run for President. All of them lost.
Some of the failed candidates added sparkle to the race (Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson, Mo Udall, Eugene McCarthy, Barry Goldwater). Others seemed, at least at the time, plausible and serious (Ed Muskie, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Birch Bayh). Some exceeded expectations (John Anderson, Eugene McCarthy, John McCain). Others underperformed (Phil Gramm, John Glenn, Alan Cranston). In some cases it's hard to imagine what they were thinking when they decided to run (Orrin Hatch, Fritz Hollings, Paul Simon, Fred Harris, Phil Crane).
But the point is, they all lost: forty-nine up, forty-nine down.
One might think that this rather compelling historical record would have made some impact. One might think that a major political party would be sure to include lots of non-congresspersons in its roster of presidential hopefuls. One might think that those members of Congress who run for President would understand that they are launching an undertaking that is extremely unlikely to succeed, and that they had better do something highly unorthodox to improve their chances.
Wrong on all counts. This year the Democratic establishment is offering up as candidates at least seven current or former members of Congress: John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Bob Graham, Dennis Kucinich, and Carol Moseley Braun. And, true to form, this field is generating about as much excitement as Dole, Cranston, Hatch, Joe Biden, Richard Lugar, Walter Mondale, and Tom Harkin did in campaigns past. The only candidate sparking any passion is the one non-member of Congress in the race: Howard Dean, of Vermont.