Running for president of the United States is an awesome undertaking. In the words of one political analyst, it requires someone with a big enough ego to think that he should be president of the United States, and the humility to appreciate the responsibilities of the office. There are three strict constitutional requirements for becoming president: The candidate must have been born in the United States, have been a resident of the country for the fourteen years prior, and be at least thirty-five years old. (You can learn more about presidential elections in Chapter 19.)
Presidents come in all different stripes. Some, such as John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush, were born into political dynasties, while others, such as Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, come from humble beginnings. Many were military heroes, while others have no military experience at all. A few were groomed for the office their entire lives, but for most the opportunity arose later in their careers.
Just as the office has evolved over the past 200 years, so has the typical route to the White House. Throughout the nineteenth century, a large majority of presidents (and candidates who lost the elections) were either generals or senators. Only a few were governors, and even fewer were businessmen. The past 100 years have seen a dramatic reversal: Dwight D. Eisenhower has been the only general to serve as president, and governors have outnumbered senators six to two.
Some believe that another military man, Colin Powell, would have been elected president had he run in 1996 or 2000. Throughout his career as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, the former five-star general has consistently polled as the most popular public servant in America. Powell holds the distinction of being the highest-ranking African-American ever to serve in both the military and the executive branch.
During the 1990s, billionaire H. Ross Perot self-financed two bids for the presidency. While he finished a distant third both times, his 1992 campaign yielded him the highest vote total of any third-party candidate in eighty years. With the cost of presidential campaigns spiraling out of control, it can be expected that wealthier individuals will finance third-party campaigns in the future.