Go to HHH home page.
Smart Politics
 


Do Governors Make the "Most Successful Presidents?"

Bookmark and Share

The top rated presidents in U.S. history are split 50/50 between those who had gubernatorial experience and those that did not.abrahamlincoln.jpg

Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad made headlines this week when he discussed his thoughts about what kind of candidate he would like to see emerge from the GOP presidential field in 2012.

Branstad was quoted saying:

"The history of our country shows governors have been the most successful presidents."

Although he had kind words to say about her role in the party, the upshot of this statement is that Branstad won't be endorsing Michele Bachmann anytime soon.

Governor Branstad knows a thing or two about being governor.

The Iowa Republican is in his fifth four-year term, which makes him the longest current and all-time serving governor since 1787.

Branstad's statement, in effect makes two assertions:

1) Executive (gubernatorial) experience gives politicians necessary tools to make them better presidents, and

2) Therefore the Republican Party would be best served if its 2012 nominee came from the ranks of its ex-governor subfield.

That list would include Mitt Romney (Massachusetts), Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota), Jon Huntsman (Utah), Gary Johnson (New Mexico), and Buddy Roemer (Louisiana) among announced candidates, and Rick Perry (Texas) and Sarah Palin (Alaska) among those supposedly still mulling over a 2012 run.

Despite Branstad's claim, a review of American political history demonstrates that while a substantial number of U.S. presidents had gubernatorial experience of some sort (e.g. state, territorial, military etc.), less than 10 served for any notable length of time - and few of these are considered among the nation's 'greats.'

Overall, 20 of the 43 presidents in U.S. history previously served as governor in some form.

However, only eight of these 20 served at least four years in office, with just one of them universally acknowledged as one of the all-time greatest presidents (FDR):

· William Harrison: Indiana Territory, 11+ years (plus 1+ year as Governor of District of Louisiana)
· Andrew Johnson: Tennessee, 4 years (plus 3 years as Military Governor of Tennessee during the Civil War)
· Rutherford Hayes: Ohio, 5+ years
· William McKinley: Ohio, 4 years
· Franklin Roosevelt: New York, 4 years
· Jimmy Carter: Georgia, 4 years
· Ronald Reagan: California, 8 years
· Bill Clinton: Arkansas, 11+ years
· George W. Bush: Texas, 5+ years

Moreover, many of the most highly rated presidents in U.S. history never served a day as governor.

Presidents such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, John Adams, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and Harry Truman frequently populate the upper echelons of the greatest presidents over the last 220 years, and none served a day as governor.

An equal number of top-rated presidents did have gubernatorial service on their political resumes, although most with a rather brief tenure.

In addition to the previously mentioned FDR, presidents in the top two tiers with gubernatorial experience are:

· Thomas Jefferson: Virginia, 2 years
· James Monroe: Virginia, 2+ years
· Andrew Jackson: Florida, less than 1 year (Military Governor)
· James Polk: Tennessee, 2 years
· Teddy Roosevelt: New York, 2 years
· Woodrow Wilson: New Jersey, 2+ years

As established above, gubernatorial experience has historically not been a necessary qualification for a president to achieve success.

Nor has it been a sufficient condition for greatness among those who do have such a background, as several of the lowest-rated presidents in U.S. history were former governors.

Andrew Johnson, John Tyler, and William Harrison (who only served a few weeks as president) are consistently rated in the Bottom 10.

Furthermore, there are not many GOP politicians who dance in the street when recalling the Jimmy Carter or (impeached) Bill Clinton administrations.

terrybranstad05.jpgWhat might be coloring Branstad's vision of history is that two of the most beloved presidents by Republicans over the last half-century were both governors - Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

However, if Branstad could refine his statement to the realm of political strategy, rather than presidential success, he would generally have a stronger case.

It can probably be stated that an "outside the beltway" candidate might run particularly strong during the 2012 election cycle. And governors normally fit that bill.

The problem for Branstad, and the hefty crop of ex-governors in the 2012 race, is that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is not seen by GOP voters as a D.C. insider, thus nullifying that advantage governors usually possess in the nomination battle.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.

Previous post: U.S. Senate Eyes First Session During 4th of July Holiday Since Watergate
Next post: McCotter Tries to Buck Michigan's Dismal History of Presidential Campaigns

Leave a comment


Remains of the Data

Is There a Presidential Drag On Gubernatorial Elections?

Only five of the 20 presidents to serve since 1900 have seen their party win a majority of gubernatorial elections during their administrations, and only one since JFK.

Political Crumbs

Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


Larry Pressler Wins the Silver

Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


more POLITICAL CRUMBS

Humphrey School Sites
CSPG
Humphrey New Media Hub

Issues />

<div id=
Abortion
Afghanistan
Budget and taxes
Campaign finances
Crime and punishment
Economy and jobs
Education
Energy
Environment
Foreign affairs
Gender
Health
Housing
Ideology
Immigration
Iraq
Media
Military
Partisanship
Race and ethnicity
Reapportionment
Redistricting
Religion
Sexuality
Sports
Terrorism
Third parties
Transportation
Voting