That old saying about the importance of timing in politics? It’s everything.
Take the case of Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts who last year famously passed on a race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
At the time, it was hard to blame her. She would have run headfirst into Hillary Clinton, not to mention the potential candidacy of Vice President Joe Biden. The thinking then was that Clinton deserved the nomination after her came-so-close dash in 2008 against Barack Obama.
“I’m not running, and I’m not going to run,” Warren said on NBC’s “Today” show in March 2015.
And that was that.
But if she had run, I think most of us could agree that today we could be looking ahead to a faceoff between Warren and Donald Trump in the fall.
It’s all a matter of timing. Warren may have just passed on a golden opportunity to become the 45th president of the United States.
Political pros know something about how to improve their odds for good timing.
Trying to succeed a two-term president of your own party is asking for trouble. Just look at history. Warren knew this.
So is running for Congress, or anything else, in a midterm election when you are of the same party as the president.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has said point-blank that she is running for a third term in 2018. But here’s guessing that she’ll wait and see who wins the White House this year before making a final call. If Trump is the winner, running in 2018 just got a whole lot easier because unmistakable trends show that the out-party almost always makes big inroads in a new president’s first midterm election.
But if Clinton wins? McCaskill will think a lot harder about seeking term three.
The senator is a beneficiary of good timing herself. After losing the 2004 Missouri governor’s race, McCaskill bounced back in 2006 by inching past Republican incumbent Jim Talent in that year’s Senate race. She knew that 2006 would be a prime time to run. Midterm elections in a president’s second term are especially choice opportunities for the opposing party.
Some other examples of great and not-so-good timing in recent Missouri and Kansas history:
POOR: Jim Slattery, the Kansas Democratic congressman, who passed on the 1990 race for governor. He would have faced unpopular incumbent Mike Hayden, and every analyst I know said Slattery would have waltzed into office. Instead, the state got stuck with Joan Finney.
Then, who knows? A Democratic governor in Kansas could have turned his success into a calling card for national office. Slattery had the talent.
GREAT: Sam Brownback in 1996. He chose to run for Bob Dole’s old U.S. Senate seat even though the GOP establishment in Kansas lined up behind Sheila Frahm. She turned out to be a bust of a candidate, and Brownback sailed into office sensing the burgeoning strength of the Kansas conservative movement.
GREAT: Jason Kander in 2012. A lowly Missouri representative heading into that election, Kander undertook a very, very long-shot race for statewide office — and won — despite the state’s rightward shift. Today, at the ripe ol’ age of 34, the secretary of state is a competitive candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Not bad, Mr. Kander. That’s what good timing does for you.