Primary Post: Governors and Senators

      2 Comments on Primary Post: Governors and Senators

So. This weekend, I was thinking a bit about the Presidential Primary, and the experience of the candidates. I had written, three cycles ago, about experience and exceptions, making the point that mostly we elected Presidents who had experience either as Vice-President or as Governor (or both), but that Presidential candidates are mostly exceptions to rules.

The reason I was thinking about this was that none of the women who are running for President in this cycle have been state Governors. I heard some analysis recently that in the recent cycle Democrats largely preferred to vote for women candidates for legislative office, but that there still seemed to be a group who were reluctant to vote for women for executive offices. Thus, we have only nine women who currently serve as Governor, of whom I believe only Gina Raimondo and Kate Brown are on their second terms, and of the recent Governors there are only a handful who have been talked about as potential candidates (perhaps Christine Gregoire, Kathleen Sebelius or Jean Shaheen). However, Senators Warren, Klobuchar, Gillibrand and Harris are all formidable candidates—each of them more obviously top-tier than any of the Governors.

And the top tier of candidates who do have that experience as Governor are all white guys—John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee and Terry McAuliffe each have the potential to break through. I suspect that even if our Party has managed to get past the bias for white guys in legislative offices, it will be a long while before the results of that bias aren’t visible in the pipeline.

And I do think that, all things being equal, I have a preference for a candidate with experience as a Governor. More than my actual preference for experience, though, I think it’s somewhat easier for a Governor to differentiate himself as a candidate. What did Senator Klobuchar do in the Senate that Senator Warren or Senator Booker did not? Who are the people whose lives were changed by Senator Harris and not Senator Warren? My guess is that they all have very similar voting records, and to the extent that they differ, it’s on stuff that doesn’t draw a lot of votes. Meanwhile, whatever happened in Colorado during Governor Hickenlooper’s terms, he can take credit for it personally. Every job, every project, every dollar allocated—the blame, too, sure, as well as the credit, but it helps to make a distinction. Not so much the Senate.

On the other hand, what do I know? Clearly if Governors had an easier time than Senators, Governor Sebelius would have an exploratory committee right now. And for all that I have thought (and written) that Governors have an edge, in the three cycles since I wrote that note, not only were the three people who took office men without experience as Governor or Vice-President, but two of the other nominees had no experience in those offices. Mitt Romney was the only Governor who won the nomination, and I think it’s fair to consider that he ran on his business record far more than his Gubernatorial record. In fact, I think the last Governor to be a top-tier candidate (sorry Martin O’Malley and Bill Richardson) was Howard Dean in 2004. And when was the last time there were two former Governors who were in the top tier of candidates on the D side? If you count Jerry Brown as top-tier, 1992 (or if you count him as top-tier in his previous run, 1976). If you count Bruce Babbitt as top-tier (much more questionable), 1988. Then there’s 1972, when Governors Muskie and Wallace were probably what we would now call top-tier, but of course Senator McGovern won the nomination.

So, maybe there isn’t room for two Governors to distinguish themselves in the primaries, after all.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “Primary Post: Governors and Senators

  1. Chris Cobb

    My sense is that the both federal-level politics and federal-level governance have now diverged so much from state-level politics and policy that it’s harder for governors than for senators to get up to speed in dealing with the media messaging and hyper-partisanship components of federal politicking.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      Plausible! My other thought is that since the Era of Big Government ended, it has become rare for any D Governor to succeed in his or her own state enough to make a nationwide run. Or that the increased partisanship of this generation is enough to make the particular Gubernatorial skills of negotiation and compromise less attractive to the elites who largely determine ‘top tier’ status.

      Or that it’s all about Hillary Clinton’s success at shouldering aside most of the opposition in both 2008 and 2016, so we’re really only talking about 2004 anyway, for openly competitive primaries since 1992.



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