Do governors make good presidents?
Governor potential in the the White House
Scott Walker isn’t the first sitting governor to run for president, and he won’t be the only one to try to win the White House in 2016.
An article in the Washington Post last year summed it up with this headline: “Are you a governor? You are probably thinking about running for president.”
But how many governors have made it to Washington?
Seven, including Rutherford B. Hayes (Ohio), Grover Cleveland (New York), William McKinley (Ohio), Woodrow Wilson (New Jersey), Franklin Roosevelt (New York), Bill Clinton (Arkansas) and George W. Bush (Texas). Six other governors–including Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) and Ronald Reagan (California)–won the White House after finishing their terms in the statehouse.
But what do voters make of governors with presidential ambitions? The results are mixed.
Away from home, in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, governors tout their distance from Washington, D.C., partisanship and accomplishments on tough issues that often don’t even reach the floor in Congress. But the view from the homefront looks different for many governors seeking the national stage.
In 2012, Texas governor Rick Perry was considered a strong contender in the GOP primary before suffering a major “oops” moment in an early debate (forgetting the name of a government agency he pledged to eliminate). Once Perry left the race, his approval ratings hit their lowest-ever levels, and less than thirty percent of voters thought he should run for governor again. (He didn’t.) Michael Dukakis suffered a similar fate in Massachusetts in 1988 after winning the Democratic nomination but losing the presidency to George H. W. Bush. In 2008, Democratic governor Bill Richardson ran while still in office and saw his approval ratings slide as New Mexicans “saw him as either ignoring the state or only pushing policies that benefited his presidential campaign,” according to a 2012 article in Governing magazine on governors who run for president.
Here in Wisconsin, the trend has been similar for Walker in the early days of his run for the White House. His job approval rating dropped eight points–to forty-one percent–in the most recent Marquette Law School poll taken in April. In the same survey, sixty-two percent of registered voters said they did not want him to run for president (down from sixty-eight percent in October 2014).
Wisconsin Democrats branded Walker an absentee governor this summer for being out on the campaign trail while the state budget remained under construction with several key issues unresolved. The Wisconsin State Journal keeps a running tally of how many days he spends out of state. Other sitting governors running in 2016 will face the same criticisms, a list that includes Republicans Chris Christie (New Jersey), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana) and John Kasich (Ohio).
But not every sitting governor sees his popularity suffer from a presidential run. Bill Clinton’s decision to run in 1992 was popular among Arkansans, who saw his improbable bid for the White House as a way to get the state on the map.
If Walker succeeds, will Wisconsin feel the same way?