In New Jersey, there has been talk that popular Republican governor Christine Todd Whitman may face a challenge from the man she defeated back in 1993, Jim Florio.
Is there no such thing as a retired or defeated politician?
Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, on why politicians should get out of the game
“It depends very much on the period of history you’re talking about,” said Marvin Kalb, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “There are times, and this happens to be one of them, when many politicians leave with eagerness because they don’t want to be in that game any longer. They feel like they’re being nibbled to death by ducks, and they want to leave.”
Yet, it often seems that no sooner has a politician stepped down than he is busy plotting his way back into office. Since leaving the U.S. Senate in January last year after 18 years of service, New Jersey senator Bill Bradley has been surrounded by speculation about a possible bid for the White House in the year 2000. He is an example, said Kalb, of politicians who “genuinely believe that the country cannot get along without them.”
Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, lists three reasons why a retired politician would want to re-enter the ring: ego, sense of responsibility or revenge.
“Some (politicians) feel that the agenda that they had set forth wasn’t fulfilled,” says Baker. “Some do it out of sense of revenge. Others genuinely just can’t stand to be out of power.”
In Dinkins’ case, it could be a little of each. “I think he became so filled with anger he became irrational,” former Mayor Ed Koch told the New York Times, in reference to Dinkins’ defeat by Guiliani three years ago.
The Comeback Kids
Defeated politicians are not marked for life. They have, as history shows, the ability to re-package themselves and emerge triumphant. Former Vice President Nixon lost the presidential election to John F. Kennedy in 1960, and then failed to win the California governorship two years later. Yet, in 1968 he was elected president.
“If you were once a governor and you run again, obviously people know that. But they know you, and know your name and that makes it easier for you get money. You know the way the game is played and can play it more effectively,” said Kalb.
There is a second type of politician who are really almost opposites. They quit politics, do something else for a while and many years later re-appear on the ballot box.
In 1956, Cecil Underwood became, at the age of 34, the youngest person ever elected governor of West Virginia. Last November, Underwood, 70, resumed life in the governor’s mansion after being re-elected.
“It wasn’t very difficult because he had been involved in public life since he left office,” said John Brown, Underwood’s interim director of communications. “When he looked at the opportunity that was presented to him it seemed like he had a good chance against the Democratic candidate. Of course there were some people who said he had had his time, but that didn’t fly,” Brown said.
David Canon, associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, on the politician who can’t stop running
Inevitably, politicians — especially early in their careers — suffer defeat. Yet public rejection seems to make some politicians even more determined to serve. Perennial candidates such as Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown make it into the textbooks less for positions they held than for their repeated attempts at higher office.
Of course no candidate achieved wider acclaim for his defeats than William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, who lost three bids for the presidency, served in Congress and as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson, and became famous for his eloquent speeches as the leader of the Populist Party.
Although life in politics is always a gamble, one thing is certain in the 90’s: no matter how crushing the defeat, a politician can always come back. And it can’t hurt, of course, if you have your own talk show.