In politics, as in life, timing’s everything.
Just ask our last three presidents. Had he not run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2004, complete with a keynote address at that year’s Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama most likely isn’t his party’s nominee in 2008 (another Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, had two Senate runs under his belt, plus a national voice in the slavery debate, by the time 1860 rolled around). If George W. Bush doesn’t run for governor of Texas in 1994, he’s probably not in a position (re-elected, wind at his back) to seek the presidency in 2000. As for Bill Clinton, he ran for president in a cycle that saw other, more nationally established Democrats (Lloyd Bentsen, Bill Bradley, Mario Cuomo, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore) taking a pass. Had he waited until 1996 – and assuming a lesser-skilled Democrat would have failed in unseating George H.W. Bush – Clinton might have gone missing in a more crowded field of better-known and better-financed rivals.
And that’s just the last three fellows to hold the job. If you want to step further back in modern presidential history, John F. Kennedy’s House run in 1946 and Senate upset in 1952 are integral to his relatively fast track to the Oval Office (14 years from the time of his first political campaign to the White House, which is two years more than Obama). If Ronald Reagan had waited four years later, until 1970, to run for governor of California, perhaps another conservative beats him to the punch as the right’s post-Goldwater standard-bearer.
We can even apply this rule to Hillary Clinton. If she doesn’t run for Daniel Moynihan’s vacated Senate seat in 2000, she has one of two options: run for president in 2004 (and probably lose); or wait for an office of parallel value to become available (i.e., running for Empire State governor in 2006). Maybe she still runs for president in 2008. However, she would have done so without much of a record to fallback on (a Senate record that Obama supporters in 2008 suggested was vastly overrated, by the way).
With the November 2014 election now 15 months ahead and fast approaching, we’re beginning to see next year’s class “wisteria” candidates emerge (I’m borrowing that descriptive from the British press, which have described Kate and Pippa Middleton as the “wisteria sisters” – “highly decorative, terribly fragrant and with a ferocious ability to climb”). Should they succeed in gaining higher office, these climbers will gain access the national political highway – C-SPAN and cable talk shows, coast-to-coast invites to fundraisers, maybe a spot on a national ticket.
With that in mind, here are a few contenders who fall into the “wisteria” classification.
1) Ken Cuccinelli. As the year began, Virginia’s attorney general had three options: run for re-election; a Senate run in 2014; run for governor this fall (Virginia and New Jersey holding off-year votes). He opted for the latter, putting himself in a gubernatorial contest that will test what worked well for Democrats in 2012 (“war on women”, vague campaign promises). Should he prevail, Cuccinelli’s stock rises higher among conservatives who already like his legal maverick style.