After Texas, Are Members of Congress Flawed Candidates for Governor?

For a Tuesday in March, yesterday was quite an interesting day of elections. Rick Perry became his party's nominee without having to spend more ...
by | March 3, 2010

For a Tuesday in March, yesterday was quite an interesting day of elections. Rick Perry became his party's nominee without having to spend more money on a runoff. Democrats got the ticket they wanted, not only nominating Bill White for governor, but also picking Linda Chavez-Thompson for lieutenant governor (who should build enthusiasm among union workers and Hispanics) and avoiding the distraction of Kinky Friedman as Agriculture Commissioner nominee.

Plus, the Texas Board of Education appeared to tilt in the direction of moderates, although the upset of one moderate by a political unknown may complicate the situation. Several noteworthy Texas incumbents lost primaries. Democrats held onto a seat in the Virginia House (by 37 votes!), while Republicans held one in the Connecticut House.

But, maybe the most interesting development to me is the congealing conventional wisdom that members of Congress are flawed gubernatorial candidates in the current political environment. Here's what First Read wrote before the Texas primary:

So it's an anti-incumbent year, right? Well, then how did the second-longest-serving governor in the country (and longest in Texas history) apparently survive this primary challenge, if the polls are correct? The answer: Being an incumbent in WASHINGTON is worse than being an incumbent in AUSTIN, apparently. Staying with how Perry has used Hutchison's work in Washington against her, it's worth pointing out that at least nine senators and House members are running for governor this cycle: Hutchison in Texas, Sam Brownback in Kansas, Neil Abercrombie in Hawaii, Gresham Barrett in South Carolina, Artur Davis in Alabama, Nathan Deal in Georgia, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, Pete Hoekstra in Michigan, and Zack Wamp in Tennessee. Did Rick Perry provide their opponents with a playbook how to win in a cycle when Washington is so unpopular?

What's interesting to me about this analysis is that I thought the same thing -- in 2006. Congress wasn't very popular then either. In fact, we've now lived through four consecutive years when there was a sense that, even more so than usual, people are angry at the federal government in general and Congress in particular.

So, it's helpful to look back at how sitting members of Congress have performed in recent gubernatorial elections (let me know if I'm forgetting anyone):

Congrsssmen for Governor

You can spin this record either of a couple of ways. Four wins and eight loses doesn't sound very good. On the other hand, most people who run for governor don't win. Ten of the twelve candidates for governor were Republicans and being a Republican candidate, congressman or not, wasn't a great way to get elected in 2006 or 2008.

In only a few of these cases (Beauprez, Istook, Hulshof) did the congressmen perform far worse than you'd expect a generic candidate to perform. Istook's performance in Oklahoma in 2006 never ceases to amaze me.

Overall, I'd say that being a congressman running for governor hasn't been a great profile the last few years, but it hasn't been the worst thing in the world either. It does matter how the candidate has voted in Congress and whether he or she has a distinct identity independent of Washington. Probably the environment for congressmen seeking a promotion will be somewhat worse this year, but it still would be surprising if someone like Sam Brownback or Mary Fallin lost because of it.

On a related note, there's also a decent case to be made that congressmen don't tend to be very successful governors. Rod Blagojevich and Jim Gibbons are exhibits A and B for that one.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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