Marco Rubio is a freshman Republican senator from Florida, a virtual unknown outside political circles but already a possible presidential candidate. The other day he won headlines by pronouncing himself ready to be chief executive of the greatest power on Earth.
If Rubio, who turns 43 this month, were elected, he would have less than one term in the U.S. Senate. You might think of him as a drive-by senator, presumptuous in believing himself qualified for the top executive office, except that his 70 months would be more than 50 percent longer than the time Barack Obama spent in the Senate before being elected to the White House.
All of which raises an important question: What does it take to be qualified to be president?
Here are some people who were, by ordinary reckoning, ready to be president of the United States:
-- Sen. Robert J. Dole of Kansas, a disabled World War II veteran who was in Congress for more than a third of a century. He lost the 1996 election.
-- Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a celebrated Vietnam prisoner of war who served on Capitol Hill for a quarter century when he won the Republican nomination in 2008. He lost to Obama.
-- Albert Gore Jr., a Vietnam veteran and son of a senator who served in the House and Senate and as an unusually activist vice president for eight years. He lost the 2000 election.
In the post-war period, only three presidents have been indisputably qualified in the traditional way to hold the office they won.
One was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded Allied forces in Europe -- a dozen generals have become president -- and had served as an Ivy League university president. One was Richard M. Nixon, who served in the House, Senate and as vice president for two tumultuous terms. And one was George H.W. Bush, who served in the House, was chairman of the Republican National Committee, director of the CIA, chief U.S. diplomat both in Beijing and at the United Nations, and then was a two-term vice president.
The rest have been political gambles made by the American people. The verdict on Obama is still out. But he remains more promise than performance.
So Rubio and some of his amateur presidential rivals are more in the main current of American political life than generally recognized. Two other freshman senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both Republicans, are regarded as legitimate presidential candidates. So are four governors, Republicans Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Pence of Indiana and Rick Perry of Texas as well as Democrat Martin O'Malley of Maryland.
Most Americans outside their states have never heard of any of them. Then again, how many Americans had heard of Barack Obama?
David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette, firstname.lastname@example.org.