The Once and Future Governors?

The football world rolled its eyes when Brett Favre spent the summer contemplating another comeback. If Favre were a former governor, however, he'd fit ...
by | September 15, 2009

The football world rolled its eyes when Brett Favre spent the summer contemplating another comeback. If Favre were a former governor, however, he'd fit right in.

We now have seven former governors who are either running for their old jobs or thinking about it. If Favre gave advice to these people, he'd probably tell them to choose Adrian Peterson as a running mate. 

Here's a rundown on these comeback bids.

Name: Roy Barnes

State: Georgia

Party: Democrat

Previous gubernatorial victory: 1998

Why he can win: Barnes is a natural politician and a skilled fundraiser. He's a strong favorite to be the Democratic nominee. Republicans seem likely to have a bruising multi-candidate primary.

Why he might not: Georgia is a much more Republican state than it was when Barnes won in 1998. In his one term, Barnes created enemies with his teacher tenure plan and the changes he supported to the state flag. Critics called him arrogant.

Name: Terry Branstad

State: Iowa

Previous gubernatorial victories: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994

Why he can win: Branstad knows how to win a gubernatorial election -- he was Iowa's longest-serving governor. He retains good poll numbers. Republicans don't have a candidate with statewide elected experience to run against Democrat Chet Culver, which is why there is an active movement to draft Branstad.

Why he might not: The first big question with Branstad is whether he wants it. He's the president of Des Moines University right now and may decide he is content to stay put. Branstad appointed two of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of gay marriage, so there could be an opening for more conservative Republicans in a primary.

Name: Jerry Brown

State: California

Party: Democrat

Previous gubernatorial victories: 1974, 1978

Why he can win: Brown, one of the most prolific politicians in recent American history, has won statewide in California four times. Most recently, he won a convincing 56%-38% victory for attorney general in 2006. Currently, he leads in Democratic primary and general election polls.

Why he might not: Assuming he wins the Democratic nomination, Brown will almost certainly face a hugely wealthy self-funding Republican. Would Californians prefer a fresh face?

Name: Bob Ehrlich

State: Maryland

Party: Republican

Previous gubernatorial victory: 2002

Why he can win: Ehrlich retained decent favorable ratings, even as he went down to defeat in 2006. The man who replaced him, Democrat Martin O'Malley, has made some controversial moves, including raising taxes and promoting slot machine gambling. Maryland Republicans, who lack a bench of strong contenders, would likely embrace Ehrlich if he got in the race.

Why he might not: Ehrlich has spent months mulling the race, without giving any clear signal as to his intentions. Maryland is a very Democratic state, which is a big reason Ehrlich lost in 2006. As a fairly conservative Republican, Ehrlich always seemed like a strange fit for the state.

Name: John Kitzhaber

State: Oregon

Party: Democrat

Previous gubernatorial victories: 1994, 1998

Why he can win: Kitzhaber is running. He enjoys pretty good favorable ratings from his time as governor, which makes him a clear favorite in the Democratic primary. Republicans don't have anyone who qualifies as a top-tier candidate.

Why he might not: Oregon's current Democratic governor, Ted Kulongoski, isn't very popular, which may help Republicans make the case that they deserve to win the governor's office for the first time since 1982. Kitzhaber's two terms weren't free from drama, as he feuded with Republican legislators. He'll be accused of rationing health care (sound familiar?) through his Oregon Health Plan.

Name: Fife Symington

State: Arizona

Party: Republican

Previous gubernatorial victories: 1990, 1994

Why he can win: Though he had to leave office because of a bank fraud conviction, his conviction was later overturned and he also received a pardon from Bill Clinton. Perhaps some Arizona voters view him as a martyr? Republican Gov. Jan Brewer does appear vulnerable to a primary challenge.

Why he might not: There are other Republicans with cleaner reputations who seem likely to challenge Brewer from the right, including State Treasurer Dean Martin. In a general election, any Republican is probably going to have to contend with Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard, who Symington just barely beat in 1990. If Symington runs, expect to hear a lot about UFOs (seriously).

Name: Tommy Thompson

State: Wisconsin

Party: Republican

Previous gubernatorial victories: 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998

Why he can win: Thompson is a Wisconsin institution who retains good poll numbers from his four terms as governor. He advanced noteworthy Republican policy ideas during his tenure, including welfare reform and school vouchers. With fairly unpopular Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle stepping down, Republicans have a good chance to win.

Why he might not: As Thompson mulls a bid, Republicans already have two solid candidates in the race in Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann. After a disastrous presidential campaign last cycle, Thompson may decide that he doesn't want to get back into electoral politics. 

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

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