We don’t know who will take the oath of office as President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2009, but it will not be Hillary Clinton.Sen. Clinton may well get the Democrats’ nomination in 2008. But she will not be elected president.Not because she is a woman. Not because she is “controversial,” hated in some circles, or for any of the other reasons trotted out against her.Instead, she will not be elected because of where she lives, and because of her job.By seeking the White House, Clinton is battling two important patterns in American political life. Going against one of those trends would be amazing. Breaking both of them is, politically speaking, impossible.The first trend she’ll be bucking up against is that Americans don’t elect presidents from New York. Or Illinois, her state of birth. Instead we elect presidents from the South or the West.
The last time we elected a president from an area other than the South and West was 1960: John Kennedy, from Massachusetts.In 1964, we elected Lyndon Johnson of Texas. In 1968 and 1972, Richard Nixon of California. In 1976, Jimmy Carter of Georgia. In 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan of California.In 1988, George Bush of Texas. In 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton of Arkansas. And now we have George W. Bush of Texas.It’s an intriguing historical question about what might have happened if Clinton had waited two years, and returned to Arkansas, where she lived for a number of years, and run for governor there in the 2002 election. Had she won the governor’s seat in Little Rock, I suspect that the odds of her winning presidency in 2008 would be far greater.Then there’s the other problem — a far bigger, longer-lasting one in historical terms — is that we seldom elect senators to the White House.The last time we did was, again, 1960. President Johnson was, of course, a longstanding senator. But he was elected as a sitting president, and had served three years as vice-president before becoming president in 1963.Before John Kennedy’s election, we have to go all the way back to 1888 to see a senator elected president: Benjamin Harrison.Senators look presidential. Some of them even sound presidential. And by all logic, they ought to be qualified. But there is something very deep in the American electorate that believes that the Senate is not the place to learn to be president.Barring some accident, Sen. Clinton will be re-elected to the senate by a landslide this fall. But instead of serving two years, and heading to the White House, she will instead serve out her term, ending in 2013. She will return to the Senate in 2009, chastened after a lost presidential bid.Pundits will argue that she lost because America won’t vote for a woman in the White House. But that’s not the problem. The issue is that Democrats are looking for a presidential candidate in the wrong place.Instead of the Senate, they need to look to governors from the South or West: say, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Mike Easley of North Carolina, Christine Gregoire of Washington, or Tim Kaine of Virginia.Someday another president will be elected from the Northeast. And someday, another senator will be elected president. But not in 2008. And not Hillary Clinton.