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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Next president likely to be first senator since JFK

While no one can tell who the next president of the United States will be, odds are it will be a senator - the first one to win the presidency since John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960.

With Mitt Romney out of the race, contestants are now Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is still in the race but trailing by more than 500 delegates.

Having senators run for president is not uncommon, political experts say. It's just uncommon for them to win.

Daniel A. Smith, a UF associate professor of political science, said one reason senators struggle is their voting records.

"It's often easy for an opponent to characterize senators by picking on those past 'yeas' or 'nays' in the Senate chamber," Smith said.

The last example of that, he said, was John Kerry, who in 2004 was criticized for his "flip-flopping" vote on the war in Iraq.

Governors, on the other hand, can take credit for anything good that happens in their states, said UF political science assistant professor Michael Heaney.

"People who've been governor are able to say, 'Look, I've had executive experience,'" Heaney said. "They can point to a list of accomplishments."

In the past hundred years, senators have tended to lose out to incumbent presidents, incumbent vice presidents and governors, he said.

But with no incumbent presidents or vice presidents as opponents, senators only had to worry about running against governors this year.

And these senators all have qualities setting them apart from those who have struggled in the past, Heaney said.

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Obama has good speechmaking skills, which is considered a presidential quality, Heaney said.

Obama has also only been in the Senate one term, he said, which means he has a short voting record that is less likely to come back to haunt him.

Clinton is able to say she has executive experience from her days as first lady, Heaney said.

McCain's bipartisan work in the Senate has given him a list of accomplishments with his name on them, Heaney said, such as the McCain-Feingold Act, which regulates campaign finance.

Heaney said he thought having two senators run against each other for president could result in more mudslinging than usual.

"When you've got two senators going at each other, I think you're going to see a lot of debate about minute legislation that not a lot of people know about," he said.

If Clinton or McCain win the presidency, Heaney said, voters can expect a president who works closely with Congress and gets lots of legislation passed.

"I think whoever the president is, we are going to be getting a very different kind of president," Heaney said.

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