Here Monday on Bob Dole's turning 72 and the...

I COMMENTED

July 27, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

I COMMENTED here Monday on Bob Dole's turning 72 and the problems that created for his presidential bid.

Now the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader has brought up his other longevity problem:

"Dole. . . is too old for the Presidency. . . in the sense that his ways of functioning in Washington are old," it editorialized yesterday. What do you expect? He's been functioning in the Senate for 26 years.

No one who functioned 26 years in the Senate was ever elected president. In fact, functioning senators of any tenure seldom get nominated, much less elected.

The last sitting senator elected president was John Kennedy in 1960. That was a big year for senators with aspirations. JFK defeated Sen. Lyndon Johnson, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Sen. Wayne Morse and Sen. Stuart Symington. Five -- count 'em -- five.

That's the record. It was tied in 1976, when Sen. Birch Bayh, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Sen. Robert Byrd, Sen. Frank Church and Sen. Scoop Jackson all ran and failed -- losing to an ex-governor, Jimmy Carter.

There are four senators running this time, Dole, Sen. Phil Gramm, Sen. Richard Lugar and Sen. Arlen Specter. If Jesse Jackson runs, and he might, some might say his being "shadow senator" from the District of Columbia means the record will be tied in 1996. I don't count him. But 1996 still might be a five-senator year: If Bill Clinton gets in real trouble, watch for a Democratic challenger -- Bill Bradley? John D. Rockefeller IV? Bob Kerrey?

Clinton should be so lucky as to be challenged only by a senator. Thirty-one senators have tried it since 1960, and not only was Kennedy the only one to win, only two others were even nominated.

And were they lousy candidates! Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964 got only 38 percent of the popular vote and carried only six states. Sen. George McGovern in 1972 got only 37 percent of the popular vote and carried only one state.

Interestingly, Goldwater lost to ex-Sen. Lyndon Johnson and McGovern lost to ex-Sen. Richard Nixon, who had left the Senate after successful runs for vice president.

Dole tried that in 1976, to no avail. In fact, he has now lost bids for higher office three times in his Senate career. I think that's a record. Which I think he's going to break.

The Senate has never been a good launching pad for presidential aspirants. Only 14 senators have ever been nominated for president -- and five of those were from fringe parties. The Senate's finest hour or lowest moment, depending on how you look at it, came in 1836, when the Whigs -- then a major party -- nominated two senators for president. (The party ran regional candidates that year.) Both lost.

The only two senators elected president were Kennedy and Warren Harding, in 1920. This is no place for silly superstition, or curses, but note that neither man lived a full term in the White House.

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