The Buzzless Governors

A few months ago, I compiled a list of 28 governors who won't be running mates this year. Each had a disqualifying trait -- they were (...
by | July 8, 2008

No_bees A few months ago, I compiled a list of 28 governors who won't be running mates this year. Each had a disqualifying trait -- they were (and are) unpopular, out of step with the party, foreign born, etc.

The strange thing, though, is that there's another group of nine governors who don't seem to have any of those disqualifying traits, but who have almost entirely been left out of the vice-presidential discussion.

I've tried to think through the reasons why these governors haven't gotten much buzz, although, in truth, many of them are more plausible candidates than some of the people who have been discussed ad nauseum.

First, let's tackle four Southern Republicans: South Carolina's Mark Sanford, Texas' Rick Perry, Alabama's Bob Riley and Georgia's Sonny Perdue.

The Obama campaign's interest in Georgia notwithstanding, none of these are swing states. Perhaps if John McCain had obvious problems with his base, this group of conservative governors would have warranted more consideration. Given the years of McCain-bashing from conservatives, though, I've been surprised at how muted the criticism from the right has been.

Other factors: The only thing the national media knows about Perdue is that he prayed for rain. Sanford is an interesting guy, but he's known for being prickly and was named one of Time Magazine's worst governors. For a Republican in Texas, Perry isn't all that popular -- he was reelected in 2006 with only 39% of the vote. There's nothing obviously wrong with Riley, but there's nothing particularly exciting about him either.

It's a bit harder to explain why two Southern Democrats, Tennessee's Phil Bredesen and North Carolina's Mike Easley, lack buzz.

Bredesen may be a tad too conservative -- he spent the early part of his term disassembling TennCare, his state's landmark health care program. I also don't tend to think of him as being especially charismatic.

Easley is similar to Bredesen. He's a low-key, low-profile moderate. And if Obama is going to pick a North Carolinian, why wouldn't he take John Edwards? (Actually, there might be a good answer to that. Easley may be more popular in North Carolina than Edwards. Given that polls show a close race in North Carolina, if there's one buzzless governor who might actually get picked, it's Easley.)

The two other Democrats on the list are Oregon's Ted Kulongoski and Wisconsin's Jim Doyle. Oregon is a borderline swing state, while Wisconsin is as purple as they come.

Neither governor, however, is especially popular or especially distinguished. SurveyUSA pegged Kulongoski's approval rating at 47% and Doyle's at 44% in May. Sometimes I find SurveyUSA's approval numbers on the low side, but the two governors certainly aren't popular enough to give Obama a big boost in their home states.

The final governor on my list is Republican Dave Heineman of Nebraska. Heineman, so far as I can tell, is a very popular governor. He's only been in office for three years, though (he took over when Mike Johanns became Secretary of Agriculture), so he's a bit short on experience.

All of this discussion leaves out a key question: Does a lack of buzz really preclude someone from getting picked?

Undoubtedly, the presidential campaigns are smart enough to look into every option, even if the chattering class isn't chattering about someone. No one was talking about Dick Cheney as a vice president, but George W. Bush's search committee didn't hold that against him (funny how that happened).

Still, there's danger in picking someone who lacks buzz. The media knows the storylines that go along with the candidates who they've been discussing (the moderate Midwesterner, the elder statesman, etc.). How the press would react to a surprise pick would, of course, be a surprise. Remember Dan Quayle?

I also think a lack of buzz reflects the long odds these governors face. Despite the supposed secrecy of the selection process, insiders have dropped hints. These names generally haven't been hinted. If these governors have national ambitions, they'd better hire new publicists by 2012.

So, where does that leave the overall picture? We have 28 governors who won't be picked and 9 buzzless governors. I've also previewed Kathleen Sebelius, Haley Barbour, Bill Richardson , Tim Pawlenty , Brian Schweitzer, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin , and Tim Kaine and Ted Strickland

That leaves four governors left. Two, Jon Huntsman of Utah and Charlie Crist of Florida, are Republicans. The other two, Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, are Democrats. Hopefully, I'll get to all of them, although we're getting to the point where running mates could be announced at any moment.

(Art from flickr)

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

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