More Senatorial hats in Presidential ring

Another week, another couple of U.S. senators announcing a serious flirtation with running for president.

With Indiana’s Evan Bayh and Kansas’ Sam Brownback the latest to announce they are "exploring" entering the nation’s biggest popularity contest, the total number of sitting senators eyeing the White House has reached nine — six Democrats and three Republicans.

We hate to throw cold water on their ardor for the keys to the Oval Office, but their odds for success are terrible if history is precedent. Only two senators — Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy — ever managed to move directly from the Senate to the presidency.

History also doesn’t bode particularly well for the three former senators — Al Gore, John Edwards and Mike Gravel — who also are being mentioned as White House contenders. In all, only 15 men who once served in the Hill’s upper body have reached the presidency, with the most recent being Richard Nixon.

For the record, the senators with hats in — or nearing — the ring are Bayh, Joe Biden, Brownback, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Christopher Dodd, Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, John McCain and Barack Obama.

Nearly two years after the Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed nearly a quarter-million lives in 12 countries, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has finally installed its first early-warning buoy, which will eventually be part of a 22-sensor network deployed there. The buoys have instruments that sit at the bottom of the sea and detect passing tsunami waves by the increase in water pressure.

But data from the buoys will still have to be transmitted to warning centers in Japan or Hawaii, which will issue alerts to individual governments, until the region can set up a tsunami-warning center of its own.

Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war foil of President Bush’s Texas vacations, has now gone global. She’s been taking her message around South Korea, where she joined a recent protest by villagers who oppose the expansion of Camp Humphreys, which is slated to become the primary American military installation in the country. U.S. generals are in the process of pulling most of the 30,000 American troops back from the border with North Korea, after deciding that South Korea is sufficiently able to bear the brunt of up-close defense duty. Residents around the burgeoning camp want the Yankees to go home, or at least away, and Sheehan has been adding her voice to their cause.

About 45,000 folks will traipse through the wreath- and candy-cane-bedecked White House’s invitation-only holiday "buffet receptions" this month, and here’s some of what they’ll find at these exclusive nosh-ops: 4,000 pounds (each!) of crab claws and shrimp; a ton of sweet potatoes, and 20,000 cookies (including some shaped like First Dogs Barney and Miss Beazley). Plus a dainty version of the Lone Star State’s cuisine staple: "Chicken fried beef tenderloin with white onion gravy, served on tiny icebox rolls."

It took President Bush’s official motorcade about a minute Thursday evening to traverse the several hundred yards between the White House and the Ellipse, site of the lighting of the nation’s Christmas tree. One newsman, in the pool report he filed after the arduous journey, speculated that the length of the motorcade itself might have been even longer than the route. For security reasons, the days of presidential walks in the neighborhood are over.

The days are still getting shorter, but a recent announcement from the Energy Department puts a sunnier outlook on prospects of getting significant amounts of juice from solar power. A cell produced by Boeing-Spectrolab achieved a world-record conversion efficiency of 40.7 percent by capturing a greater share of the sun’s light spectrum. This breakthrough could lead to the installation of solar-generating systems of just $3 per watt and electricity that costs just 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour to produce.

George Clooney for U.S. Senate? That’s the idea being floated by Mark Nickolas, a Kentucky Democratic gadfly who envisions the actor, who has twice been named the "Sexiest Man Alive," going up against GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, known neither for his looks nor his charm, in 2008.

Clooney, born and raised in the Bluegrass State, is quoted in Esquire this month as saying that he has given thought to running for office, but lost his appetite after his father, media personality Nick Clooney, had his clock cleaned in a 2004 race for a Northern Kentucky House seat.

Even so, Nickolas thinks the star might be persuaded to give McConnell, who next month becomes Senate minority leader, a run for his money.

The senior senator from New Mexico, a distinguished lawmaker commonly clad in conservative suits, was recently spotted in a Senate building hallway wearing what the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call breathlessly described as plaid "jammies."

Turns out, it was "buffalo plaid" hunting pants that GOP Sen. Pete Domenici, 74, was decked out in, an item of clothing familiar to those who live in the West, his office said. Seems the Senate wasn’t in session and Domenici, who lives just a block away from work, dropped by the office, where his staff was working on an oil-drilling bill.

"If we were in New Mexico, nobody would have even noticed," Domenici chief of staff Steve Bell said.

(Contact Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at) SHNS reporter Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)