Not too soon to mull 2012

Senators are dominating the 2008 presidential campaign, but if you are a senator who passed up this race, there is always 2012.

Remember how extraordinary it is for a senator to go to the White House. Only two sitting senators, John F. Kennedy and
Warren Harding, have ever been elected president. Since 1976, only two of the parties’ 16 nominees for president have been sitting senators (Democrat John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLet's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy The Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster MORE and Republican Bob Dole).

Against this recent trend, all three top Democratic candidates — Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' US-Iran next moves — Déjà vu of Obama administration mistakes? Cost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion MORE (Ill.) and John Edwards (N.C.) — have been senators, as well as six of the eight who are running. On the Republican side, Sens.
John McCainJohn Sidney McCain The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (Ariz.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.) are in the race, and everyone is awaiting the entry of former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and possibly current Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelWhite House aide moves to lobbying firm Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip MORE (Neb.). And a year ago, we thought that Sens. George Allen (R-Va.), Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), and Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerHillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Calif.) might run.

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It is no surprise that senators are interested in the White House. The old adage goes that every senator wakes up, looks in the mirror, and sees a future president of the United States.

The outcome of the 2008 election will open up paths to the White House for a new group of senators.

Some will be considered as vice presidential nominees. On the Republican side, Mel Martinez (Fla.) or Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) would make attractive running mates. Martinez hails from the biggest competitive state and could help Republicans appeal to Hispanic voters. Kay Bailey Hutchison has run and won convincingly in the largest Republican state, and adding a woman to the ticket might be a useful counterbalance to a Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Hillary Clinton: Voter suppression has led to 'crisis in democracy' in the US MORE candidacy. On the Democratic side, Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE will always be considered because he is a moderate Democrat from all important Florida.
Bayh, Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (La.) would be attractive moderates in Republican states. If any of these senators gets picked as the VP nominee and loses, he or she will be a strong contender in 2012.

One other name to watch is former Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who would make an attractive running mate for any of the Democratic presidential nominees, and who would only be 64 in November of 2012.

Aside from the VP nominee path, there are several up-and-coming senators who may be ready in 2012. If Democrats are in the White House, Republicans may look to three Johns and a protégé of a John. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWe've lost sight of the real scandal The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? The Memo: Times correction gives GOP lifeline in latest Kavanaugh controversy MORE (S.C.) will be the heir apparent to John McCain: a conservative on many issues, but a maverick who often bucks his party. Then there’s John Ensign (Nev.), young, rising in the leadership and from a swing state in an increasingly competitive Southwest region.
John CornynJohn CornynOn The Money: NY prosecutors subpoena eight years of Trump tax returns | Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms | Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum | Trump faces dwindling leverage with China Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (Texas) has gained prominence on the Judiciary Committee and in the lower rungs of leadership. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneProspects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Trump, lawmakers consider app that would conduct background checks: report 'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat MORE (S.D.) is the closest thing that Republicans have to Barack Obama, a fresh new face with a future in the Senate, or perhaps in the Oval Office.

If Republicans win the White House, it is not likely that Hillary Clinton will run again, but Obama might. A strong second-place showing to Clinton would make him the front-runner in 2012. Boxer or Feingold might run as candidates on the left wing of their party. Pryor or Bayh could run from the moderate wing of the party.

2008 is the best chance in a long time for a senator to win the White House, but behind the current crop of candidates lies another group, looking in the mirror, perhaps polishing off their 2013 inauguration speeches. Hope springs eternal.

Fortier is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.