Do Gubernatorial Endorsements Work?

Hillary Clinton's fading presidential hopes hinge, to a large extent, on the abilities of two governors. In Ohio, she has the help of Ted Strickland. ...
by | February 25, 2008

Hillary Clinton's fading presidential hopes hinge, to a large extent, on the abilities of two governors. In Ohio, she has the help of Ted Strickland. If she survives Ohio and Texas, the next big test will be Pennsylvania, where Ed Rendell is backing her.

But do gubernatorial endorsements actually help presidential candidates? This year's primaries and caucuses suggest the answer is no -- or at least not usually.

So far, thirty governors have endorsed prior to their party's vote. In ten of those cases, the state hasn't vote yet. Out of the other twenty, twelve times the governor backed the candidate that ended up winning. You can see the full list below (endorsements that occurred after the primary or caucus aren't included).

Sixty percent might sound likely a pretty good record. Both parties had competitive multi-candidate fields for quite a while, so even 50% success wouldn't be horrible. On closer inspection, however, the results are less impressive.

In Michigan, for example, the absence of either Barack Obama or John Edwards from the ballot had more to do with Clinton's victory than the backing of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Three other wins came in states where the endorsed candidate had a home-state advantage (Obama in Illinois and Clinton in Arkansas and New York).

Those victories suggest a larger problem in determining whether endorsements matter. Endorsers always like to pick winners. Governors enjoy political benefits from choosing the victorious candidate, from good press to future campaign help to presidential appointments.

So, endorsements often reflect who is going to win a state, more so than they influence the outcome. When Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire endorsed Obama a day before her state's caucuses, for example, that struck me as a confirmation, rather than a cause, of Obama's victory.

Gubernatorial endorsements may be swaying voters at the margins, but other factors are clearly more important. Obama does best in caucus states, states with large numbers of black voters and states with lots of wealthy, well-educated voters.

He won Maryland easily because of the demographics, in spite of Gov. Martin O'Malley's endorsement of Clinton. Obama lost Arizona because Democratic voters there weren't as good of a fit for him, even though Gov. Janet Napolitano supported him.

If you're searching for endorsements that might have made a difference, there are a couple of prominent ones on the Republican side. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist threw his support behind McCain at the least moment, helping McCain secure a narrow win. Ditto for Schwarzenegger and McCain in California.

But there also have been prominent flops on the Republican side. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt endorsed Romney, who finished third in the Show-Me State. The least effective endorsement to date? Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. backed McCain, only to see the Arizona senator lose to Romney 90%-5% in his home state.

Huntsman's loyalty could still be rewarded with a spot on the ticket with McCain. If that happens, we'll know of one endorsement that worked beyond any doubt.

State Governor Endorsed Success Alabama Bob Riley None NA Alaska Sarah Palin None NA Arizona Janet Napolitano Obama No Arkansas Mike Beebe Clinton Yes California Arnold Schwarzenegger McCain Yes Colorado Bill Ritter None NA Connecticut Jodi Rell McCain Yes Delaware Ruth Ann Minner Clinton No Florida Charlie Crist McCain Yes Georgia Sonny Perdue None NA Hawaii Linda Lingle None yet NA Idaho Butch Otter None yet NA Illinois Rod Blagojevich Obama Yes Indiana Mitch Daniels McCain TBD Iowa Chet Culver None NA Kansas Kathleen Sebelius Obama Yes Kentucky Steve Beshear None yet NA Louisiana Bobby Jindal None NA Maine John Baldacci Clinton No Maryland Martin O'Malley Clinton No Massachusetts Deval Patrick Obama No Michigan Jennifer Granholm Clinton Yes Minnesota Tim Pawlenty McCain No Mississippi Haley Barbour None yet NA Missouri Matt Blunt Romney No Montana Brian Schweitzer None yet NA Nebraska Dave Heineman Romney TBD Nevada Jim Gibbons None NA New Hampshire John Lynch None NA New Jersey Jon Corzine Clinton Yes New Mexico Bill Richardson None NA New York Eliot Spitzer Clinton Yes North Carolina Mike Easley Edwards TBD North Dakota John Hoeven None NA Ohio Ted Strickland Clinton TBD Oklahoma Brad Henry None NA Oregon Ted Kulongoski Clinton TBD Pennsylvania Ed Rendell Clinton TBD Rhode Island Don Carcieri Romney, then McCain TBD South Carolina Mark Sanford None NA South Dakota Mike Rounds Huckabee TBD Tennessee Phil Bredesen None NA Texas Rick Perry Giuliani, then McCain TBD Utah Jon Huntsman McCain No Vermont Jim Douglas McCain TBD Virginia Tim Kaine Obama Yes Washington Christine Gregoire Obama Yes West Virginia Joe Manchin None yet NA Wisconsin Jim Doyle Obama Yes Wyoming Dave Freudenthal None yet NA

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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