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 KerryJohn Kerry: Democratic debate 'was something of a food fight' Kerry responds to Trump accusation he violated Logan Act: 'Another presidential lie' Mellman: Primary elections aren't general elections MORE and Republican Bob Dole).

Against this recent trend, all three top Democratic candidates — Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases The South Carolina Democratic primary will be decided by black women Do Trump and Sanders hate America? 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 McCainSanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Overnight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed 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 HagelAlmost 100 former officials, members of Congress urge Senate action on election security GOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel White House aide moves to lobbying firm 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 BoxerFormer Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer joins DC lobbying firm Hillicon 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 MORE (D-Calif.) might run.

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 ClintonBloomberg called Warren 'scary,' knocked Obama's first term in leaked audio Trump trails Democratic challengers among Catholic voters: poll Sanders under fire from Democrats over praise for Castro regime MORE candidacy. On the Democratic side, Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line MORE will always be considered because he is a moderate Democrat from all important Florida.
Bayh, Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuA decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ 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 GrahamThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Five things to know about emerging US, Taliban peace deal 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 CornynGOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Ocasio-Cortez announces slate of all-female congressional endorsements Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings MORE (Texas) has gained prominence on the Judiciary Committee and in the lower rungs of leadership. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran 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.