22 Govs Weigh In On Presidential Race

 

Heading into today's (Jan. 8) New Hampshire primary, 22 governors have endorsed presidential contenders, and so far, five are backing the winners of last week's Iowa caucus - Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee(R) and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama(D-Ill.).

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) is the only top state executive stumping for former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee. In Obama's corner are Democratic Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois where Obama spent seven years in the statehouse.

A governor's endorsement is coveted since a state's top executive can provide ground troops and political donors needed to win the presidency.

Governors who back a winning candidate early also can have an edge for plum spots if they make the right pick. "When it comes time to hand out favors, [governors who endorsed early] will probably be at the head of the line," Larry Harris, a public opinion expert with Mason-Dixon Polling & Research in Washington, D.C., said.

Of all the candidates, New York's U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has garnered the most governors' support with seven: Democratic Govs. John Baldacci of Maine, Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Ted Strickland of Ohio, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, Eliot Spitzer of Clinton's adopted state of New York and Mike Beebe of Arkansas, where Clinton was the state first lady when her husband Bill was governor.

"As soon as things start to shake out … you'll see more people jumping on board," Harris said.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, announced Jan. 7 his support for U.S. Sen. John McCain , joining four other gubernatorial endorsements, the most of any GOP presidential candidate. McCain also enjoys the backing of Republican Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Jon Huntsman of Utah.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has won endorsements from Republican Govs. Matt Blunt of Missouri, Dave Heineman of Nebraska and Don Carcieri of Rhode Island.

Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports former New York City Rudy Giuliani.

The only sitting governor in the presidential race - Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has yet to be politically blessed by any of his gubernatorial colleagues.

Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democratic,endorsed U.S. Sen. Joe Bidenof her home state, but Biden dropped out of the race after a poor showing in Iowa.

Both governors in the country's traditional early primary states have held off weighing in, but that hasn't stopped their wives. Iowa's first lady, Mari Culver, endorsed former U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) while New Hampshire's first lady, Susan Lynch, supports Clinton.

Presidential contenders are courting governors for good reason. Just ask President George W. Bush. "I've got some advice for anybody who's running for president. If you decide to run, make sure you get the governor on your side," Bush said in 1999 on his way to winning his first term in office.

Historically, the party that controls the governorships has an advantage in a presidential contest. When Bill Clinton was first elected president in 1992, for example, Democrats held most of the governors' seats (28), and when Bush first ran for office in 1999, 31 Republicans were in office, including Bush, then governor of Texas.

As early as the fall of 1999, when McCain and Steve Forbes were running strong against Bush in the GOP polls, 24 Republican governors backed Bush, including Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, who opted not to back McCain from her own state.

Presidents remember who helped them get into the White House, particularly those who backed them at the outset.

Frequently, governors land Cabinet or key political jobs. Then-South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley's (D) early support of Clinton helped land him the job as secretary of the Department of Education. Then-Montana Gov. Marc F. Racicot (R), who was among the first to back Bush in 1999, served later as chairman of the Republican National Committee and was then appointed as the chairman of the president's re-election campaign in 2003.

Bush's Cabinet is brimming with fellow Republican governors who stumped for him in 1999 and early 2000, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who was sworn in as the country's first Office of Homeland Security advisor in 2001 and later in 2003 headed the Department of Homeland Security when it was created.

Also during Bush's first term, the president turned to Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services and New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dirk Kempthorne, who is now secretary of the Interior Department, and Mike Johanns, former secretary of Agriculture, were governors of Idaho and Nebraska, respectively, when they endorsed Bush in 1999.

Michael Leavitt, who is now secretary of Health and Human Services, supported Bush when he was governor of Utah, but his formal endorsement went to his fellow Utahn, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican who ran an underdog campaign.

Governors often also make the shortlist for vice president. Among governors reportedly considered for U.S. Sen. John Kerry's running mate for the Democratic 2004 ticket were Iowa's Gov. Tom Vilsack, Michigan's Granholm, New Mexico's Richardson and Virginia's Mark Warner.

 
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