Senators Eye No. 2 Spot

Posted February 13, 2007 at 6:30pm

While the national spotlight focuses on the handful of Senators actively considering presidential bids in 2008, another high-powered job may be attracting an even greater share of Senators’ interest — the vice presidency.

Talk of the No. 2 White House slot may be on the public’s back burner, but Senators and political operatives alike concede that the vice presidential nomination is prominent on many Members’ minds. And as the Senate increasingly becomes a launching pad for executive branch campaigns, more and more Senators inevitably view themselves as viable running mates to their party’s ultimate presidential nominees.

“My guess is every Senator looks in the mirror each morning and sees a president or a vice president,” quipped Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

“I know this: Somebody has got to stay in the Senate,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I may be one of three Senators left. We can’t all be running for president or vice president.”

At least seven Senators are weighing or are engaged in a 2008 presidential run. On the Democratic side, Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) are all in the hunt. Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.), John McCain (Ariz.) and possibly Chuck Hagel (Neb.) are mounting bids.

Any of those Senators also could be a vice presidential pick if unsuccessful in their respective campaigns to sit atop the 2008 ticket. But beyond that group, a handful of other Senate Democrats and Republicans could be attractive No. 2 picks for their party’s presidential candidates.

“There’s definitely a bench, a very worthy bench,” said a Senate Democratic political operative.

Democrats and Republicans alike predicted that the 2008 presidential nominees are more likely than ever to pluck their running mates from the Senate. Not only are there at least seven would-be presidents to choose from, Senators also have a unique understanding of U.S. foreign policy at a time when the Iraq War continues to be the top electoral issue.

“Senators have vast experience on a variety of war-related issues,” Graham noted.

“Congress is a natural place that you look,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “The bench is pretty wide.”

The Senate has long served as a breeding ground for vice presidential hopefuls, given Senators already enjoy national profiles, have been tested under political fire, have a grasp of the weighty issues facing the presidency and can help raise large sums money.

Senators’ cache may be even greater if the presidential nominee is a governor or other elected official looking for a ticket that balances experience, political ideology, geography and electoral college votes, gender or religion.

Still, an all-Senator presidential ticket isn’t unheard of, either. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry, the junior Senator from Massachusetts, teamed up with then-Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) in their failed bid to unseat President Bush. And the Democratic Senate operative suggested that with the new political emphasis on national security matters, Senators may have a bigger draw than ever.

“The idea that Senators can’t be president doesn’t exist anymore,” the source said. “As a result, the two-Senator ticket isn’t a liability it used to be.”

Others aren’t so sure the country is ready to elevate a pair of Senators to the White House, even with national security atop voters’ priorities. A senior GOP Senate aide said the odds are more than long that a Senator as the presidential nominee would follow Kerry’s 2004 lead and tap a colleague in 2008.

“It’s not going to happen,” the Republican staffer said. “It’s hard enough for one Senator” to get on the ticket.

Still, a GOP political operative agreed that with the number of Senators running for president in 2008, it is inevitable that the Senate will serve as a primary pool for the vice presidency. This Republican insider noted that of the Senators running for the top slot “not everyone can win and those who don’t get the brass ring fall into the tier of making good vice presidential candidates.”

And whether it’s one of the current cast of seven, or another Senator, the operative said one thing is clear: “You’ve got to find someone who is going to be comfortable protecting the candidate and can serve as an articulate spokesman for the campaign, and someone who doesn’t mind

going to Syracuse rather than New York.”

Beyond the obvious selections of Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden, the names of several other Democratic Senators have surfaced for the 2008 vice presidential contest.

Among them are: Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), the affable Midwesterner who himself was briefly a 2008 presidential candidate; Dianne Feinstein, the experienced, steady Democrat from the electoral-rich state of California; Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate leader and strong party loyalist; Jack Reed (R.I.), a West Point graduate and point man for the Democrats on military matters; Jim Webb (Va.), the freshman Democratic rising star whose national security credentials are difficult to match; Ken Salazar (Colo.), a Westerner with a law enforcement background as state attorney general; and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), a well-versed and well-liked Southerner.

Senate Republicans have picks on their side as well, beginning unsurprisingly with presidential hopefuls Brownback, Hagel and McCain, who is viewed by many as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination and certainly would be considered a leading No. 2 pick.

Beyond that trio, other GOP Senators likely to get strong consideration include Sens. John Thune (S.D.), the telegenic first-term Senator who knocked off then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in 2004; Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), the conservative Republican Policy Committee chairwoman who has hinted at a possible interest in the job; Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), a one-time presidential hopeful himself; Judd Gregg (N.H.), the wonky Easterner who has become one of his party’s most loyal attack dogs; and David Vitter, the conservative Louisianan whose work on behalf of Hurricane Katrina recovery could play heavily in his favor.

Lincoln shrugged off suggestions that she would be on any 2008 short lists, but acknowledged the Senate is an obvious place to look for either party’s vice presidential nominee. “There are tremendous resources up here — there are a lot of folks who feel passionately about this country and the issues America faces and our place in the global community,” Lincoln said.

Alexander, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1996, said “the chances are pretty good” that the next round of vice presidential picks will come from the Senate, given the country’s recent penchant for selecting governors as their presidential nominee. But Alexander said the type of Senator chosen would depend entirely on who gets top billing on the ticket — and what the ultimate presidential hopeful needs to shore up general-election appeal.

All those variables aside, Alexander insisted that one thing is certain: “Whoever runs for it almost certainly won’t get it.”