Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
What do Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano have in common? Something more interesting than their marital status (single, for now): both have remained popular in spite of the massive economic and budgetary problems in their states. That resilience is a major reason -- though certainly not the only reason -- they're near the top of most vice-presidential short lists.
Arizona just closed a $2 billion shortfall on a $10 billion budget. In Florida, the budget was $6 billion smaller this year than last year. In both states, the budget situations are symptoms of major economic downturns.
This type of trouble can undermine the most well-positioned governors. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was reelected with 56% of the vote in 2006. Today, his approval rating teeters in the high thirties or low forties.
Not so, for Napolitano and Crist. In April, 76% of Arizonans said Napolitano was doing an excellent or good job (I don't know of more recent numbers). Crist's still at 61%, although that was before his recent moves on offshore drilling and Everglades protection. The press described Napolitano and Crist as winners in their budget debates.
How is that possible? The simple answer is that Napolitano and Crist have political instincts that the other 48 governors should envy and which would serve them well on a presidential ticket.
Napolitano and Crist also share similar shortcomings. Neither seems quite as valuable from the perspective of Electoral College math as they might have been.
If John McCain weren't the Republican nominee, Napolitano would have given Obama a great chance to win Arizona's 10 electoral votes. There's a case to be made that she could still put the state in play (and a case to be made that she is more popular than McCain), but Obama probably has other targets that are more ripe for the taking.
If this were 2000, a popular governor of Florida would, without a doubt, be worth ten times his weight in gold to the Republican Party. This year, though, the election doesn't seem to hinge on Florida.
Barack Obama's most likely path to victory is to win the Kerry states plus Ohio or the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado (or a combination involving Virginia). To be sure, Florida is still a very important state -- McCain's unlikely to win the election without it -- but it's not the focal point of the election. That makes the selection of Crist at least slightly less likely.
Both governors (but Crist especially) might also irk ideological purists within their own party. Crist has defied conservative orthodoxy on global warming and gay marriage. The Wall Street Journal has accused him of wanting to "socialize" property insurance. That said, Crist is a low-tax, tough-on-crime Republican.
With Napolitano, one of the big questions is how her stance on immigration would play. Napolitano, like Obama, wants a path to citizenship for people who are in the county illegally. However, she's also declared a state of emergency over illegal immigration and (reluctantly) signed legislation that goes the furthest in the country in terms of punishing businesses that hire undocumented workers.
When you add it all up, Napolitano views on immigration closely mirror those of the American electorate, which is deeply conflicted on the subject. Still, there's a chances that her record might not sit well with all Democrats.
None of those concerns sound like dealbreakers to me. Of the 50 governors, few are more logical picks than Napolitano and Crist.
Of course, that assumes McCain and Obama wouldn't rule the governors out because of their marital status. Some think they would. The logic is that voters would presume anyone who is unmarried and over 40 to be gay and Americans won't vote for someone who is gay (and that Crist's recent engagement is a political ploy). Perhaps, but the voters in Arizona and Florida sure don't seem to care about the personal lives of their elected leaders.
(Previous items in my vice-presidential series are here.)
GOVERNING Politics is the place for news and analysis on campaigns and elections. If there's a ballot measure in California, a legislative election in Alabama, a mayoral election in Anchorage or a governor's race in Rhode Island, GOVERNING Politics probably is writing about it. We love everything about state and local politics, from polls and campaign ads to policy debates and demographic trends.