From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi.
The nation's governors visit today with President Bush, who may well be the last member of their alumni association to occupy the White House before 2012 or even 2016. At least as of today, the public's habit of picking presidents with gubernatorial experience seems likely to be broken in 2008. None of the current top contenders for either party's nomination -- three senators and a mayor -- has held that job.
When he quit the race last Friday, Democrat Tom Vilsack became the third former governor to do so, after Sen. Evan Bayh and Mark Warner, the former governors of Indiana and Virginia. All three had counted on running on their credentials as centrist Democratic executives of red or swing states. Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), after never quite getting in the race, now seems to be all but out of it.
Four remaining 2008 contenders are, or were governors: sitting Gov. Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico and Republican former Govs. Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Tommy Thompson of Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin, respectively. Of the four, only Romney today seems poised to break into the top tier of candidates. But his adopted home state, and the moderate positions on social issues which he had to take in order to run for office there, are proving to be a political albatross for him as he tries to convince conservatives to support his candidacy.
One reason why the governors in the field are struggling for traction is because they're having trouble making their voices heard in the biggest ongoing argument in American politics. The Iraq war debate is centered in Washington, a battle royale between the Bush Administration and congressional lawmakers that is providing a platform for the senators in the race. Democrats Joe Biden and Chris Dodd might be lagging far behind their colleagues Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the polls, but their ability to play a role in the Iraq debate guarantees them Sunday-show appearances, audiences among the netroots, and (at least in theory) the chance to cast votes.
The former governors in the race -- even Richardson, despite his attempts to flex his UN Ambassador muscles -- are on the sidelines. Until he dropped out, Vilsack's team regularly sought to remind reporters that he was the first presidential candidate to call for cutting off funding for the war.
Ultimately, though, no senator has gotten directly elected to the White House since 1960. Sen. John Kerry's candidacy demonstrated how candidates with long records on Capitol Hill can get bogged down in Washington speak and in defending their votes. Although all the heat and light in the race is on the frontrunners, the Iowa caucuses are still more than 10 months away. But the financial demands of this long slog being what they are, the question is whether, by the time the public really starts attention to the campaign, any governors will be left in the field.
Congress return from recess tomorrow and Democrats in both chambers will start looking in earnest for ways to limit President Bush's authority in Iraq through various legislative vehicles, either by repealing the 2002 war resolution and replacing it with a narrower version, or by tying Bush's authority to troop readiness, though that effort is losing steam. NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Friday that such efforts amount to "trying to un-ring a bell." As with the earlier debate over a troop increase in the Senate, McConnell says he'll use the rules to require Democrats to muster 60 votes before they can act on their bill to repeal to 2002 resolution (which is procedural code for "filibuster").
Later this week, the Conservative Political Action Committee holds its annual conference, which will be a draw for those GOP presidential candidates make a big play for conservative votes, including Romney, Huckabee, and Sen. Sam Brownback, along with Vice President Cheney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Bush will visit the Gulf Coast on Thursday after his wife stopped there last week.