Politics & Poker: Some Members Relish Always-a-Bridesmaid Role

Posted July 13, 2009 at 6:30pm

Dan Glickman, the former Kansas Congressman and Clinton-era secretary of Agriculture, is the chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, so it’s appropriate to make a movie reference here.

[IMGCAP(1)]When Glickman said last week that he is thinking, at least casually, about running for the Senate in 2010, “Groundhog Day— immediately leaped to mind. Surely we’ve seen this scene before — like in 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2008. Every year that there has been a Senate election in Kansas since Glickman was bounced from his House seat in 1994, he has been mentioned — sometimes by political insiders, sometimes by himself — as a possible Democratic candidate for the Senate.

“There are folks in Kansas who have called me and asked me if I’m interested. I suppose I’m genetically interested in it,— Glickman told Politico. “I’ve always been interested in politics and public service.—

To be fair, Glickman conceded that it’s the longest of long shots that he’ll run. But this latest flirtation with a Senate bid has got to put him in the pantheon of political bridesmaids who talk and talk and talk about running for high office — or are talked about endlessly — and never make the leap.

In North Dakota some time around Labor Day, Gov. John Hoeven (R) is expected to tell the breathlessly awaiting populace whether he intends to challenge Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) next year. Hoeven, in fact, is part of a two-headed monster of Republican Sioux State governors — his predecessor, Ed Schafer, is the other — that every election cycle or so is supposed to save conservative North Dakotans from Dorgan and Kent Conrad, the dangerous radical Democrats who represent them in the Senate.

National Republicans have repeatedly begged Hoeven and Schafer to challenge Dorgan and Conrad, and both have declined. Schafer once went so far as to say he wasn’t a Washington, D.C., kind of guy — an argument that was proven to be as phony as synthetic corn when he came here to become secretary of Agriculture under former President George W. Bush.

But even if Hoeven says no again this time — anyone willing to place any bets? — Conrad’s next election is only three years away. Chances are GOP leaders will be knocking on Hoeven’s door yet again.

There are all kinds of reasons why people are mentioned again and again for Senate or gubernatorial races and then never take the plunge. Take Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah). He’s been urged to run for Senate or governor every couple of years because he’s just about the only Democrat in the Beehive State. The last Democratic Senator was Frank Moss, elected in 1970. The last Democratic governor was Scott Matheson, the Congressman’s father, who left office in early 1985.

Jim Matheson would be very competitive in a statewide race — and he’d probably still fall short. And he no doubt knows this. So he lets other people put his name out there and continues to accrue seniority in Washington and power and a certain kind of mystique back home. But he’s surely staying put for the foreseeable future.

Other people get mentioned a lot because they mention themselves. When it looked like Caroline Kennedy was going to be appointed to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was quick to tell everyone that he was gearing up to run against her. Kirsten Gillibrand was selected instead of Kennedy, and King has been inching away from a Senate bid ever since.

By his own admission, King thought about running for Senate a couple of times before, in 2000 and 2004 (and he did run unsuccessfully for statewide office — attorney general — in 1986, before he came to Congress). But he has been mentioned even more times. King is the rare New York Republican who gets along well with the unforgiving Empire State media — that helps considerably when it comes time for the Great Mentioner to whisper your name.

New York has two other Republicans who have been mentioned every time there has been a Senate election for the past decade or so — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. George Pataki. Will either run for Senate next year? Will Giuliani run for governor? Don’t hold your breath.

Before them, the late Rep. Jack Kemp was the great New York Republican hope. Kemp did many great things in his life — but running for statewide office was not one of them.

Illinois Republicans thought they had a clear shot in 2010 at the seat currently held by the hapless Sen. Roland Burris (D). But their attempt to unify behind a candidate has been thrown into chaos in the past few days, and if they don’t sort things out very soon, surely someone will suggest former Gov. Jim Edgar as the Republican savior. As the last Illinois governor to escape indictment in a while, Edgar has been mentioned as a possible candidate in every Senate race since Barack Obama was a law student.

Here are some honorable mentions for the list of frequently mentioned never-rans: Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson (D), Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D), Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), former Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), the late Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) and Reps. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).

You could put practically every member of the Massachusetts House delegation on the list also. But it isn’t their fault. While just about all of them are jonesing for a Senate seat, there have only been two Senate vacancies in Massachusetts since 1966 — the most recent in 1984. So there simply is no outlet for their ambitions.

Is it time to put Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) on the list? It’s true that she’s encouraged to run for Senate or governor every couple of years, and she came close to running this cycle. But Herseth Sandlin is just 38 — she’ll have plenty of opportunities to run in the future.

Perhaps Herseth Sandlin can take some inspiration from Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who became the longest-serving House Member in history to be elected to the Senate when he won in 2006 — 20 years after winning his House seat. But there’s more to the story than that.

Cardin actually began running for governor in 1986, when he was Speaker of the Maryland House, but he was muscled aside by then-Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer (D). Cardin’s consolation prize was a Congressional seat, but he was mentioned again as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 1994, 1998 and 2002, and came close to the starting line a few times. By the time 2006 came along, people thought Cardin was too risk-averse to run for Senate, but he proved them wrong.

Occasionally there are pols who are mentioned frequently for statewide office, but then the buzz dies down. Take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa, while still a businessman, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1998, then won his House seat two years later. He was mentioned as a candidate for statewide office steadily during the next few election cycles — and even bankrolled, and briefly ran in, the gubernatorial recall election of 2003.

But more recently, Issa has put his head down, focused on his House work and risen to become a key GOP player as ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. No doubt Issa is ambitious enough — and wealthy enough — to run for statewide office again. Regardless of whether he does run, one thing is clear: The California Republican bench is so thin that he’ll undoubtedly be mentioned again.