Do Gubernatorial Endorsements Work?
posted by Josh Goodman
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.
|Delaware||Ruth Ann Minner||Clinton||No|
|Hawaii||Linda Lingle||None yet||NA|
|Idaho||Butch Otter||None yet||NA|
|Kentucky||Steve Beshear||None yet||NA|
|Mississippi||Haley Barbour||None yet||NA|
|Montana||Brian Schweitzer||None yet||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|
|Rhode Island||Don Carcieri||Romney, then McCain||TBD|
|South Carolina||Mark Sanford||None||NA|
|South Dakota||Mike Rounds||Huckabee||TBD|
|Texas||Rick Perry||Giuliani, then McCain||TBD|
|West Virginia||Joe Manchin||None yet||NA|
|Wyoming||Dave Freudenthal||None yet||NA|