Governors Line Up behind Candidates

By: - January 8, 2008 12:00 am

More than half of the country’s governors have endorsed presidential contenders as the candidates stump for votes.

Thirty governors, so far, are backing presidential hopefuls, with more Democratic top state executives weighing in (18) than Republicans (12).

In the weeks leading up to the Super-duper Tuesday Feb. 5,Republican governors from three of the country’s largest states have thrown their support behind U.S. Sen. John McCain: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Schwarzenegger Jan. 31 lauded the U.S. senator from Arizona as the kind of Republican who can reach across political lines to get things done.

McCain won the Republican primary in California, along with New York, Illinois and six other states during the Super-duper Feb. 5primaries.

A governor’s endorsement is key because he or she can provide ground troops and political donors needed to win the presidency. Governors who support the right candidate early also have an edge for plum spots in a new president’s administration.

Not everyone thinks a governor’s endorsement can change a voter’s mind. “People in this day and age don’t vote for a presidential candidate because some big shot tells them to do it,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Florida’s Crist recently told The Associated Press, “Just because a governor says this is who I’m supporting, I don’t know that that really means that people are going to follow that guidance.” Crist Jan. 26 endorsed McCain three days before Florida’s Jan. 29 primary that McCain won.

But with races tight for both parties, every endorsement can mean a media event and the candidates crave free publicity.

While her husband endorsed McCain , California First Lady Maria Shriver Feb. 3 endorsed U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). “I thought if Barack Obama would be a state, he’d be California : diverse, open, smart, independent, bucks tradition, inspiring, dream, leader,” she said in her surprise endorsement that came two days before the state’s Feb. 5 primary. Shriver’s cousin, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, and her uncle, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), also endorsed Obama.

Despite these endorsements, Obama lost the California and Masschusetts Feb. 5 primaries to U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)

Clinton has 10 governors in her corner, the most among all the candidates, including most recently, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a prolific fundraiser .

In addition to Rendell, Clinton has the endorsements of Democratic Govs. John Baldacci of Maine, Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Jon Corzineof 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 . Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) had endorsed U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of her home state, but gave her support to Clinton after Biden dropped out of the race following his poor showing in Iowa.

Clinton’s Democratic rival, Obama has eight Democratic gubernatorial supporters: Govs. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Christine Gregoire of Washington, Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. where Obama spent seven years in the Statehouse. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who stayed neutral during his state’s first-in-the-country Jan. 3 caucus announced Feb. 7 his endorsement of the Illinois senator.

On the Republican side, McCain outpaces formerArkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee(R) with eight endorsements to Huckabee’s one. South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) is the only top state executive stumping for Huckabee.

In addition to Schwarzenegger, Perry and Crist, McCain enjoys the backing of Republican Govs. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Mitch Danielsof Indiana, Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah and Jim Douglas of Vermont.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romneyhad three endorsements before he dropped out of the race Feb. 7: Republican Govs. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, Don Carcieri of Rhode Island and Matt Blunt of Missouri, who Jan. 22 announced he was not running for re-election this year. Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry had supported Rudy Giuliani before the former New York City mayor bowed out. Giuliani also has endorsed McCain.

[ is tracking endorsements of statewide officials for the 2008 presidential campaign. Click here for a PDF of the current endorsements. Both Democratic governors in the country’s traditional early primary states have held off weighing in after their states’ nominating contests, but that hasn’t stopped their wives. New Hampshire’s first lady, Susan Lynch, supports Clinton while Iowa’s first lady, Mari Culver, endorsed former U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) before the senator dropped out of the race.

Also withholding an endorsement is Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was the only sitting governor in the presidential race but bowed out Jan. 10 after fourth-place finishes in both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. 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), while when Bush first ran for office in 1999, 31 Republicans held the 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 endorse McCain from her own state.

Presidents remember who helped them get into the White House, particularly those who endorsed 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 support Bush in 1999, served later as chairman of the Republican National Committee and then was appointed chairman of the president’s re-election campaign in 2003.

Bush’s Cabinet brimmed with fellow Republican governors who stumped for him in 1999 and early 2000, including former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who was sworn in as the country’s first Office of Homeland Security advisor in 2001 and then as first head of the new Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

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, 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.

However, Michael Leavitt, currently Bush’s secretary of health and human services, had endorsed 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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