With no true front-runner in the Democratic primary, it seems almost everyone thinks they can be president. Perhaps as many as two dozen Democrats are considering jumping into the 2020 primary campaign, and many of their résumés are thinner than that of your traditional presidential candidate. Unfortunately for them, history doesn’t bode well for their chances.
We went back to the very first presidential election in 1789 and looked up the highest civilian government office that each major party’s nominee1 had held at any time before the election (excluding the presidency, since we’re not trying to measure re-election rates2). Granted, this is a somewhat subjective exercise — for example, is governor or senator a higher office? (I chose governor because there are fewer governor posts to go around, but you may disagree with that decision.) Most calls, however, are pretty straightforward — vice presidents rank higher than, say, mayors. Below is a table of the various offices in the order we decided to rank them, plus the total number of nominees — and winners — for whom that was the highest office they reached before their run.3
Presidential nominees and winners by highest prior office
For every U.S. presidential election, civilian offices only
Highest Prior Office Nominees* Winners Vice president 9 – 5 – Supreme Court justice 1 – 0 Cabinet-level appointee 12 – 6 – Governor 21 – 10 – U.S. senator 18 – 7 – U.S. representative 7 – 2 – Sub-Cabinet appointee 2 – 0 Other statewide office 1 –