Keep Them Safe

Monday, March 19, 2007

EVERYTHING ABOUT the 2008 presidential election has been fast-forwarded. States are moving up their primaries and caucuses. And the candidates -- all 18 of them and counting -- are adjusting accordingly, making this one of the earliest election cycles in history. As a result, serious thought must be given to adjusting another aspect of the campaign: protection for presidential candidates.

Such security was mandated after the 1968 assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in California (D-N.Y.) as he campaigned for the Democratic Party nomination. The decision on who gets protection and when rests with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, in consultation with congressional leaders. Usually this happens in the first two months of the election year. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) were given Secret Service details in February 2004. But it has been given earlier. The Rev. Jesse Jackson had protection during both of his campaigns for the White House. A similar departure from custom, if not a new law rooted in a new reality, is in order now.

We understand that asking for Secret Service protection can be a double-edged sword. Candidates may fear looking presumptuous or cowardly. They also may resist the separation from voters that protection can demand. But the course of history is unpredictable, and every step should be taken to ensure that it is not altered by a madman with a gun. Right now, because she is a former first lady, only Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has federal protection. With an estimated $100 million already allocated for this purpose, Mr. Chertoff should consider bringing more into the fold sooner rather than later.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company