Morris Udall. Dick Gephardt. John Kasich. Bob Dornan. Jack Kemp.
James Garfield. Dennis Kucinich.
gentlemen have in common – other than having all served in the
House of Representatives – is that each ran for the White House
while he was still a congressman. Only one of them made it.
And he got shot.
Duncan Hunter has taken the plunge for the Republican presidential
nomination official, the Alpine congressman may soon encounter the
peculiar challenges that face a sitting House member who wants to
members feel the urge (to run) in spite of their public
invisibility, lack of national stature and limited access to
campaign funds,” said Thomas Mann, a presidential campaign scholar
at the Brookings Institution. “History suggests they should
that Hunter, a former House Armed Services Committee chairman, has
thought of all this. But he's betting that his conservative stands
on defense matters, international trade and border enforcement
will distinguish him from other Republican candidates now hogging
the headlines, including a Sept. 11 hero (former New York Mayor
Rudy Giuliani) and a war hero (Arizona Sen. John McCain).
sitting House members have aimed for the Oval office, some more
successfully than others.
Udall, the Democratic congressman from Arizona, may have run the
most credible campaign in recent decades: He narrowly lost to
Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential primaries. Experts attribute
his success in part to his stature in the House, his famous sense
of humor and his engaging, self-deprecating manner.
come across as either arrogant or as a lightweight,” said David
Rhode, a political science professor at Duke University. “He was a
skilled politician, but he wasn't too full of himself. With just a
little more luck, he might have been president.”
in the House offers no guarantee. Most people have probably heard
of Richard Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader who tried
twice to win his party's nomination. He was widely respected in
Congress, had strong ties to key party constituencies and
performed well in debates, but lost the nominations in 1988 and
sitting House member ever to win the presidency was James
Garfield. Back in 1880, he was the Republican leader of the House,
in a day when candidates were chosen within the party. Garfield
became the dark-horse candidate when the Republican convention
became deadlocked, and he won the White House in 1881.
after his inauguration, he was assassinated by a disgruntled
lawyer in a Washington, D.C., train station. Since Garfield's
time, the nominating process has become public and the financial
demands are enormous, requiring candidates to lure early “seed”
money that might give their campaigns stature. While Hunter raised
more than $1 million for each of his last two congressional
campaigns, being little known outside his district will make it
difficult to attract the $50 million to $100 million each
presidential candidate may need to be a serious contender.
very important in the year before the primary, because it's used
to judge the viability of a candidate,” said Stephen Wayne, a
presidential scholar at Georgetown University. “He's going to have
a tough time, because financial backers like to get behind people
who have a chance.”
John Anderson, an Illinois
congressman who ran for the Republican nomination in 1980, was in
a situation that resembles Hunter's, experts say. But although
only a third-tier candidate, he ran second to George Bush Sr. in
the Massachusetts primary and second to Ronald Reagan in Vermont.
Overnight, he became a household name, though he could not
maintain his momentum in later primary states. In the general
election, he ran as an independent against Reagan and
then-President Jimmy Carter, taking 7 percent of the national
presidential campaign spokesman, Mark Bisnow, attributed
Anderson's initial success to the campaign's media focus in
early-voting states and to worry among conservatives about
Reagan's movie-actor status.
he was one of the most respected congressmen of his day, a person
of towering integrity, as articulate as they come and very
moderate, nobody knew him outside Washington,” said Bisnow, who
wrote a book about the campaign titled “Diary of a Dark Horse.”
attention was showered on the people who were already well-known.”
The list of
House members who sought the presidency goes on. There was Jack
Kemp, the New York Republican winnowed out during early primary
voting in 1988; Bob Dornan, the Orange County Republican who made
a brief bid for the nomination in 1994; John Kasich, the Ohio
Republican who faced a dozen primary candidates in 2000; and
Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who placed far behind in almost
all primary states in 2004.
running again and he believes national stature will matter less in
the 2008 election than in the past.
beyond your rank in the political firmament,” he said. “This
election is going to be about the war, and anyone who wants to be
president will have to explain why they voted for the war.”
that dark horses have going for them is that no one expects them
to do well. It helps, Wayne said, if such a candidate “can do
something in the beginning – like raising lots of money or
performing well in New Hampshire or Iowa – something that makes
the media and activists say, 'Wow, this person has really
surprised us.' ”
with Jimmy Carter,” Wayne said. “And it happened with Bill