August 8, 2004

That touchy credential: a Senate career.

Jodi Wilgoren, in the NYT Week In Review, analyzes why a Senate career looks at first like a great credential for a presidential candidate, but then backfires. (Only two sitting Senators have the Presidency.) Wilgoren notes something I hadn't noticed:
Mr. Kerry's campaign aides rarely use the honorific he has earned in nearly 20 years on Capitol Hill, instead referring to the candidate only as "John Kerry'' in news releases, travel schedules and when talking about him.

Most of us have noticed that the Democratic convention speeches and the Kerry ads rarely mention his Senate career. Here, Wilgoren supplies the surprising details:
Only 3 of the campaign's 18 television advertisements since April even mention his day job, describing him alternately as a combat veteran, former prosecutor, husband, father, "advocate for kids," hunter, pilot, even hockey player.

And in accepting his party's presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, as his opponents were quick to point out, Mr. Kerry spent just 26 seconds - 73 of the 5,343 words in his speech - talking about his time in the Senate.

And most of us have noticed the raw material a Senate career provides for the Senator's opponent:
[A] Senate record [Kerry] has cast some 6,000 votes since arriving in Washington in 1985 - is easy ammunition. Hardly a day goes by without Mr. Bush's aides mentioning Mr. Kerry's 350 votes over the years for higher taxes (not mentioning that most were technical votes on minor amendments connected with balanced-budget packages). If not attacking his votes for higher gas taxes or against financing for the Iraq war, the Bush campaign is pointing to votes or hearings Mr. Kerry skipped while out campaigning.

And Kerry seems especially afflicted (unlike Edwards) by the senatorial speech patterns, which are also a problem:
Then there is the way senators speak - at length, often alone in the august hall but for a C-Span camera, with bonus points for detailed digressions and polysyllabic words.

Indeed, on the campaign trail, Mr. Kerry is inclined to "revise and extend" the draft remarks circulated to reporters, often stepping on his own applause lines by stuffing extra examples and explanations into the bumper-sticker slogans.

"You talk differently," explained Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "You tend to emphasize the specifics and the intricacies of legislation. It's hard to describe a Senate career in a way that makes you appear attractive as a president."

Wilgoren also notes that the two sitting Senators who did make it to the Presidency were, unlike John Kerry, had very brief Senate careers:
[T]he senators who made it to the White House, Harding in 1920 and Kennedy in 1960, had unremarkable Capitol Hill careers, each having spent only one term in the Senate. "They had non-records, so to speak," said the historian Robert Dallek. "There wasn't a single major bill that attached to either Harding or Kennedy's name, so they could defend against attacks on their record."

So being a one-termer is the trick? And not orating like a Senator? Isn't everyone seeing that John Edwards would have been the better candidate?

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