Hunter in the hunt

The more the merrier. That was our reaction to news Monday that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is preparing to run for the White House in 2008.

The more the merrier. That was our reaction to news Monday that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is preparing to run for the White House in 2008.

This declaration of presidential intent by the House Armed Services Committee chairman was as surprising as the recent announcement by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) that he would not be in the primary hunt.

In his 13th term in the House, Hunter has not hinted before that sees himself as a future head of the executive branch. But we take his declaration at face value; he is on course to win reelection comfortably next week, so the disclosure of White House ambitions cannot be dismissed as a pre-election stunt to attract attention on the eve of midterm balloting.

The timing is odd, though. Why indicate to voters that you will not have much time to do the job to which you want to be reelected? Perhaps it was an act of courtesy and candor, with Hunter making sure he could not be accused of seeking reelection under false pretenses.

These are, however, minor speculations. What is increasingly interesting is the 2008 field. It is more than half a century since neither an incumbent president nor sitting vice-president has been in the running. Two political generations have passed since the ultimate prize in American politics was quite so up for grabs, and it should be no surprise that members of Congress are surging into the lists.

Hunter’s chances are not obviously the brightest. In the Republican field of would-be nominees, he is up against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both of whom have national name recognition. On the other hand, Hunter is scarcely less well known than other GOP hopefuls such as Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), and has not preemptively wrecked his chances as have Sens. Bill Frist (Tenn.) and George Allen (Va.).

It’s tough to run for the White House from Capitol Hill, as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) showed two years ago. And if anything, it’s even tougher to run from the House than from the Senate, as Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) demonstrated last time, and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) will similarly show during the next two years.

Hunter evidently plans to present himself as a national security candidate. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War and his credentials as a strong supporter of the armed forces and staunch opponent of illegal immigration have been burnished on Capitol Hill.

Still, as he told supporters in San Diego on Monday, “This is going to be a long road … a challenging road.” Very true — we wish him well in his progress along it.