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The Hamlet Effect

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's (D) decision today not to run for governor got me thinking about politicians that are forever mentioned for the "next big race" but never wind up making it.

I call this the "Hamlet effect," a form of indecision that strikes certain politicians who would love to serve as senator, governor or even president but always seem to find a reason why the timing isn't right to make a race. "To be or not to be" indeed.

Blumenthal is a perfect example of a political Hamlet. After roughly a year of playing the "wait and see" game, he bowed out of a run for governor today and will instead run for a fifth term as the state's top cop. This repeats a familiar cycle for Blumenthal, who passed on gubernatorial bids in 1994 and 1998. In 2000, he was mentioned as the most likely Democratic candidate for the Senate if Sen. Joseph Lieberman decided not to seek reelection while he simultaneously ran for vice president on Al Gore's ticket. Lieberman ran for both offices, though, and Blumenthal saw another window close.

Roll Call's Jennifer Yachnin wrote a great piece on the "Man with the Golden Resume" earlier this year. The site is subscriber-only, but if you have a password it's definitely worth reading.

Blumenthal is far from the only politician suffering from the Hamlet effect. Off the top of my head I came up with former New Jersey governor Tom Kean (R), former Kansas congressman Dan Glickman (D), former Indiana congressman Tim Roemer (D), former Illinois governor Jim Edgar (R) and -- until recently -- Ohio Rep. Sherrod Brown (D). Brown threw off that image last week when he jumped into the Democratic primary race to challenge Sen. Mike DeWine (R).

I am sure there are others I'm missing. Send me your own suggestions here or post a comment.

UPDATE: Several readers have mentioned former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) as the ultimate example of the Hamlet effect. For The Fix's younger readers, Cuomo was widely seen as a rising star within the Democratic Party in the 1980s and was expected to make a presidential run in 1988. He passed, and then did the same four years later after much hemming and hawing.

So well-known was Cuomo's penchant for vacillation that he became the butt of jokes by late night comics (longtime "Tonight Show" show Johnny Carson once said of Cuomo's indecisiveness: "Mario Cuomo was in New York City yesterday and a mugger came up to him and said, 'Your money or your life!' and Mario said, 'Why do I have to make up my mind right now?'"). Cuomo's political timidity eventually came back to bite him as he was ousted in 1994 by a little known state senator named George Pataki (R) -- another New Yorker often mentioned in 2008 presidential speculation.

A few other Hamlet suggestions from loyal readers: Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon (D) and former California Rep. Chris Cox (R). Keep 'em coming!

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 11, 2005; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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Next: The Hamlet Effect (Cont.)

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