Does long service on Capitol Hill kill your presidential chances?

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I know, I know, I’m not a political blogger and I’m not supposed to be doing anything but working on my book this week. But I was thinking in the shower this morning (no kiddin’) about whether long service on Capitol Hill, in particular in the Senate, is the kiss of death for a presidential candidate. The traits that make you a successful Senator–collegiality, willingness to compromise, great knowledge of the ways of Washington–don’t necessarily look so great in a presidential candidate. Plus, if you’ve been in the Senate long enough you’re sure to have changed your mind a few times over the years–giving your opponent fodder for some embarrassing attack ads.

The three remaining contenders this year are all U.S. Senators, but Hillary Clinton (8 years in the Senate) and Barack Obama (4) are total newbies compared with John McCain (22 years in the Senate, and before that 4 in the House). I knew off the top of my head that the last four presidential races all featured candidates with no Capitol Hill experience beating ones who had done time in the Senate or House (although Bush did of course lose the popular vote in 2000). But in the interest of book-procrastination I checked back on all the elections of the 20th century. Below are the races since 1900 that featured at least one Capitol Hill veteran:

2004 George Bush (never in House or Senate) defeats John Kerry (20 years in Senate)

2000 George Bush defeats Al Gore (8 years in Senate, 8 in House)

1996 Bill Clinton (never in House or Senate) defeats Bob Dole (28 years in Senate, 8 in House)

1992 Bill Clinton defeats George Bush (4 years in House)

1988 George Bush defeats Michael Dukakis (never in House or Senate)

1984 Ronald Reagan (never in House or Senate) defeats Walter Mondale (12 years in Senate)

1976 Jimmy Carter (never in House or Senate) defeats Gerald Ford (25 years in House)

1972 Richard Nixon (4 years in House, 2 in Senate) defeats George McGovern (9 years in Senate)

1968 Richard Nixon defeats Hubert Humphrey (16 years in Senate)

1964 Lyndon Johnson (12 years in Senate, 11 in House) defeats Barry Goldwater (12 years in Senate)

1960 John Kennedy (8 years in Senate, 6 in House) defeats Richard Nixon

1948 Harry Truman (10 years in Senate) defeats Thomas Dewey (never in House or Senate)

1924 Calvin Coolidge (never in House or Senate) defeats John Davis (2 years in House)

1920 Warren Harding (6 years in Senate) defeats James Cox (4 years in House)

1900 William McKinley (12 years in House) defeats William Jennings Bryan (4 years in House)

Not the most clear-cut of results, I admit. But it is apparent that, other than Johnson in 1964, no serious Capitol Hill long-timer (which McCain certainly is) has won the presidency in at least 108 years. Update: Oh, and Johnson was of course the incumbent.