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Hanskey asks “How come governors get presidential nominations more often than people in other offices?”

That's a good question, and political scientists have been talking about it for decades. Barack Obama notwithstanding, the last time a sitting senator was elected was 1960, with John F. Kennedy, and Warren G. Harding in 1920 before him. Bush, Clinton, Carter, and Reagan were all governors, and Bush Sr. and Nixon were Vice President, though Ford was the House minority leader and Johnson and Kennedy were both in the Senate.

Now, you have to keep in mind that the current system has only existed for about sixty years; it used to be that the party leadership decided the nominee, and the few primaries that states held decided a very small portion of the delegates. Heck, until the turn of the century or so it was considered gauche for presidential candidates to campaign themselves, whether for the nomination or in the general election.

To be fair, it is a little unseemly to talk yourself up as the best person for your party to put forward, but whatever.

The biggest single reason that governors tend to do better than members of the House and Senate in presidential primaries is likely a legislative record: senators have to be ready to defend every vote they made, whether the bill passed or not. For a governor, it really only matters if a bill reaches his or her desk, and it's even more rare for a governor to comment on a bill being considered than it is for the president to do so.

Now, you might think that the lack of damning votes would also help a mayor or a member of the federal cabinet, or even a state cabinet. This is more or less true, but except for New York City mayors tend to have very low name recognition, as do cabinet members, and anyone who isn't an elected official isn't likely to have an organization to work for reelection or nomination. The last person to be nominated without history as an elected official was Wendell Willkie in 1940, who lost overwhelmingly to Franklin Roosevelt, and the last person to be elected was Herbert Hoover, who was Commerce Secretary in the 20s.

Another subsidiary reason is that governors don't have to split their time between DC and their home state, and while everybody needs to fly around fundraising for the presidential nomination, that does make a difference for building ties in your state, and having as much time as possible not be spent traveling. It may also be a factor that needing to be elected every four years rather than six means the state electorate is more familiar with you, although most states also have term limits on the governorship (most often 2 4-year terms), so that leaves a rather narrow window for running.

Ultimately, of course, all this is speculation, and a lot of it is likely due more to the individual candidates than the specific office they currently hold or most recently held. The nominations of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were about the ascendancy of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, of which they were leaders; Reagan spoke of the need for smaller government and lower taxes,  not his record in California.

Frankly, most people who run for President never even make it to the Iowa caucus, and those who get nominated have reached beyond their office to build alliances with folks across the country—nobody does it alone. George Bush and Bill Clinton didn't get nominated or elected because they were governors, they used the organizations they had built over the years to win, and they did it better than their rivals.

Originally posted to Ponder Stibbons on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 05:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

    by Ponder Stibbons on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 05:30:00 PM PDT

  •  I Got A Question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    psilocynic

    I get why districts are formed and reformed the way they are. But why aren't they just like a square or rectangle?

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 05:35:18 PM PDT

    •  Topographical features, mostly. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      webranding, cassandracarolina

      Some oldtimey property claims and other such stuff.

      Lo que separa la civilizacion de la anarquia son solo siete comidas.

      by psilocynic on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 05:51:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting. I Did Not Know That (0+ / 0-)

        but in hindsight I guess that makes a lot of sense. The district I live in isn't like some I see in other places (looking at you Texas) that zigs and zags all over the place, but some of them I look at and I just can't figure out how they came to be.

        When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

        by webranding on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 05:55:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm just considering the districts I have seen (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          joe wobblie

          The factors are probably going to be:
          1.    Demographics set the size of the district.
          2.    After demographics, there will be both voting records (depending on what party controls the body determining the districts) and geography.
          3.    There's also history, but the two items above will outweigh that. A long term incumbent of the same party as the one determining the overall districts will get one district. An incumbent of the other party will get a somewhat different district.

          If there's another general factor I can't think of it.

          Democrats stand for Liberty, Security, Support of Families and Opportunity Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

          by Rick B on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 08:24:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Districts have reasonably equal populations (4+ / 0-)

      whereas area would not. Representatives are determined by population. And population, coupled with ethnicity and demographics, is the key to redrawing.

      Tom DeLay, the dancing sensation and felon now serving time in prison was a political genius in redrawing. I miss that little Texan, he personified pink slime.

      Meanwhile, if districts were equal squares, politics would immediately reengineer their demographics so as each party, and definitely third parties, could carpetbag a seat.

      But I have visualized districts as vertical stripes of varying horizontal width to accommodate population, and I think it would be more competitive and fair.

      Redrawing is done by each state every ten years, and it is the greatest example of "to the victors go the spoils." It is an art in itself.

      What if every state was a rectangle?

      Honesty is not a policy, it's a character trait.

      by Says Who on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 09:35:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The problem with your vertical stripe plan (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Simplify

        is that it completely ignores communities of interest - one of the guiding principles of unbiased redistricting is that people with the same concerns should generally be grouped together, so they'll be able to elect someone who represents their concerns. It would also make for long trips up and down the district to campaign, which is bad for the environment and candidates without much money.

        They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

        by Ponder Stibbons on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 09:47:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think you know more than I do on redistricting (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          indres

          but the footprints of many strategically designed districts are unwieldy, to the degree that no one really knows whether a certain region/township is in or out. I didn't see how "like interests" is any goal, I prefer it that many demographic  overlays make better cooperation and better government. Why seclude any group, concentrating its dynamic, when they can be homogenized into diversity. The politically-charged redrawings are generally made to lump two sitting congressmen/women into the same district, eliminating one of them, liquidating their power bases. I'm in Illinois, where many a rep woke up to find they were not living in their own district any more. Goes with the territory, you could say.

          I did see how Chicago was redrawing its 50 wards and the story lines were speaking of less white wards, a few more hispanic wards, one more black ward, and the same number of asian-influenced wards. That is when I thought of the stripes, to get better qualified management that saw more of a diversity, thus better attention to all unique issues. Each new ward would have slums and a shoreline.

          You are so correct on the mileage in large states, but not in the small ones, which tend to have the larger populations.

          I have to think that redistricting is not aimed at unbiased fairness or equity, but for the ultimate power grab, and deservedly so in the political sense.

          Honesty is not a policy, it's a character trait.

          by Says Who on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 10:24:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  My unresearched, not-too-cleverly thought out (5+ / 0-)

    observation is, senators (unless they are outstandingly awesome, JFK and BHO) don't have the same political machinery a Gov or a long seasoned retired career politician or army guy would have.

    Lo que separa la civilizacion de la anarquia son solo siete comidas.

    by psilocynic on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 05:49:42 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, as I hinted at, they tend not to. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cassandracarolina, psilocynic

      Part of it is needing to travel back and forth and simply not having the same opportunities, and dealing with national issues as well as state concerns. People in the Senate just can't build those ties as well, by and large.

      They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

      by Ponder Stibbons on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 06:50:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  you have an error (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nominalize, WI Deadhead

    the last person nominated and elected with no previous elected office experience was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    We have no desire to offend you -- unless you are a twit!

    by ScrewySquirrel on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 07:11:20 PM PDT

    •  Well, okay, yes, technically, but generals seem to (4+ / 0-)

      be treated differently as candidates, historically. I mean, none of the usual problems apply to Eisenhower: as the primary general of WWII, he had massive name recognition and popularity, and when he indicated that he'd be okay with being nominated, people flocked to him and built the organization needed in months. It's a funny goose, military officers running for office.

      They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

      by Ponder Stibbons on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 07:23:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hey Ponder! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina

    Excellent diary. You have a real knack for making things easy to understand. Thanks :)

    Keep holding on so long, 'cause there's a chance that we might not be so wrong. We could be down and gone but we hold on...

    by Purple Priestess on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 08:18:04 PM PDT

    •  You're welcome, and thanks for reading! (2+ / 0-)

      Haven't talked to you in a while, how've you been?

      They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

      by Ponder Stibbons on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 09:48:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Alternately thrilled and pissed off (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cassandracarolina

        Between things on the personal front and things on the political.

        Headed to Atlanta Tuesday to go to the premiere of the Stephen King/John Mellencamp musical. Pretty psyched.

        Politically... yeah, pissed off. #sigh#

        How's by you?

        Keep holding on so long, 'cause there's a chance that we might not be so wrong. We could be down and gone but we hold on...

        by Purple Priestess on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 10:51:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Eh, not great. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Purple Priestess

          Still don't have a real job, hoping to spin this into one. Rarely leave the house, so I don't have any love life to speak of, and since my back started hurting I haven't been able to lift weights either. But at least my part-time job has been okay.

          They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

          by Ponder Stibbons on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 01:11:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, at least that's good. (0+ / 0-)

            I can so grok not getting out much and the back. The one causes the other in my case. I don't lift weights though!

            I sincerely hope that things take a turn for the better for you, my friend. :)

            Keep holding on so long, 'cause there's a chance that we might not be so wrong. We could be down and gone but we hold on...

            by Purple Priestess on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 06:56:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  What about executive experience? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, cassandracarolina, kck, verso2

    You might say that the closest job to being a President is Governor, so having gubernatorial experience, running an executive branch, gives you a leg up on someone who's only been in the legislative branch.

    Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

    by nominalize on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 09:45:42 PM PDT

    •  This matters A LOT (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cassandracarolina

      Job experience and proven specific skills — makes a huge difference. I'm all about having good principles, but of course that's far from the whole story.

      I just have to say, John Kerry circa 1973 was excellent. The Senate ruined that guy.

      Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

      by Simplify on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 01:03:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is the main factor IMO (0+ / 0-)

      Many people have good executive functioning skills. Many people have a robust body of experience. Lots of people have good political fundamentals. Not many people have these plus executive experience.

      Executive experience means being held ultimately accountable for decisions while representing a diversity of people and positions - labor, management, and board - getting both strategic and operational results - beyond one's own designs - building a body of experience in negotiations and budgeting. Doing these things is not accumulating a body of experience. Assuming all are flawed and try their best, the lessons need to be learned, big and little successes and failures,  before the wisdom of experience happens.

      Being an executive isn't enough and being experienced isn't enough. Few people get the chance to actually have exec experience, mush less survive with some success, and it does set one apart from what others bring to a position. It also comes with an unusual accumulation of peers and alliances.

      And then there's Sarah Pallin...

      Eliminate the Bush tax cuts Eliminate Afghan and Iraq wars Do these things first before considering any cuts

      by kck on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 10:36:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Please, send me questions for future columns (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina

    I might not answer them here, since plenty of conundra of American politics, civics, and history can't be explained properly in 600 words*, but I'll do my best to get back to you if that's the case.

    *600 words is the standard length of a newspaper column, and I'm trying to get this syndicated.

    They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

    by Ponder Stibbons on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 09:52:08 PM PDT

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