Mileah Kromer: Governor’s Mansions, the White House, and Home State (Dis)Advantages

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By: Mileah Kromer 

In recent months, Gov. Martin O’Malley has spent time in the key primary states, raising his profile and war chest. He’s stumped for a few out-of-state Democrats and helped raise money for their campaigns. Yet, Marylanders aren’t exactly ready to buy “O’Malley 2016” bumper stickers. In fact, according to the fall Goucher Poll, less than 20% of statewide residents want to see an O’Malley presidential run — a sentiment echoed in this fall’s Baltimore Sun/OpinionWorks poll of Maryland voters.

A recent post-election Baltimore Sun article by John Fritze questioned whether Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s loss could potentially undo some of the contender narrative O’Malley has worked hard to cultivate. An important question is raised: Does unpopularity in your home state spell trouble for a potential presidential run? In this case, the question refers both to the recent electoral rejection of O’Malley’s lieutenant governor and his own ratings among Marylanders.

It’s tough to predict whether Brown’s defeat will directly damage O’Malley’s presidential hopes. Some argue that Brown’s defeat was a referendum on O’Malley’s legacy, while others point out that the Brown campaign’s efforts to distance itself from the governor puts O’Malley in clear. Some even criticize Brown for not fully embracing the achievements of the O’Malley administration. At this point, time can only tell if Brown’s defeat hurts O’Malley ’16. However, one thing we do know is that Marylanders’ opinions toward Martin O’Malley hit career lows in October 2014. The Goucher Poll found that only 40% of Maryland residents held a favorable view of Governor O’Malley and, according to the Washington Post/University of Maryland poll, 41% of voters approved of his job performance.

O’Malley isn’t the only current governor eyeing a presidential run. To date, there are seven other sitting governors who have had their names mentioned as potential candidates. How popular are these governors in their respective states in comparison to Martin O’Malley’s popularity in Maryland?

Thus, presented in alphabetical order, I give you the respective statewide polling numbers for:

Chris Christie (R-NJ)

The outspoken governor from New Jersey has a fluctuating relationship with his constituency. In February 2013 he hit an incredible approval rating high of 74% among New Jersey voters. However, his post-Bridgegate numbers have taken a major hit; a September 2014 Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll found a 46% approval rating with voters in the Garden State. The same poll found that a majority of voters said that Christie is more concerned about his political future rather than governing New Jersey. Three-quarters of New Jersey voters think he will run for president in 2016. Similar to O’Malley, Christie has made appearances in several key primary states and has worked to raise money for GOP candidates, including Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan.

Andrew Cuomo (D-NY)

Governor Cuomo has received consistently positive favorability ratings from New Yorkers. Numbers from the Sienna College Poll dating back to when he first took office in January 2011 show his favorability fluctuating from the upper-50’s to 70%. Up for reelection this recent cycle, he beat his Republican challenger Rob Astorino by a 13-point margin. In a very potential candidate move, Governor Cuomo recently penned a memoir and went on a book tour.

Nikki Haley (R-SC)

In 2011, Nikki Haley was the first woman of color to be elected as governor of South Carolina. While considered to be a long-shot contender, she has the conservative credentials that would appeal to Republican primary voters. The Winthrop Poll has measured Haley’s favorability and approval ratings since her election — last April she had a 50% approval rating and most recently she handily won her 2014 re-election bid by a 15-point margin.

Bobby Jindal (R-LA)

In 2008, Governor Jindal was considered a rising star in the Republican Party.  One awkward 2009 State of the Union response later and it was clear to many Republican observers that the Louisiana politician was not yet ready for prime time. Fast-forward to 2011, where 66% of Louisianans voted to give him a second term.  However, since his reelection, his approval ratings have steadily declined. A September 2014 Public Policy Polling poll found that only 34% of Louisiana voters approve of the job Jindal is doing as governor. 

Mike Pence (R-IN)

The former House member beat Indiana State House Speaker John Gregg in 2012 by 3 points to become the 50th governor of Indiana. While widely considered to be a “dark horse” candidate for 2016, speculations of a Pence presidential run have been circulating since 2008. It was tough to find polling on Pence.  The most recent numbers come from a 2013 Howey Politics poll, which indicated that 52% of Indiana Hoosiers had a favorable view of the governor.

Rick Perry (R-TX)

Governor Perry has already taken one serious shot at the White House, though support for his candidacy quickly faded after his lackluster performance in the debates. He was faced with another setback in mid-August, when indicted on charges of abuse of power and coercion. Thankfully for Governor Perry, according to a September 2014 Texas Lyceum Poll,75% of Texans think the charges are political motivated and only 22% think he is guilty. That same survey found that 55% of Texas voters approve of the way he is handling his job as governor.

Scott Walker (R-WI)

The Wisconsin governor survived a recall election and recently beat out a challenge by Democrat Mary Burke to retain his position as head cheese in the Badger State. His favorability ratings indicate that he is divisive among Wisconsinites. An early October 2014 poll by Marquette Law School indicated that 48% of voters had an unfavorable opinion of him, while 48% held a favorable opinion. A May 2014 Marquette Law School poll asked Wisconsin voters if they wanted Governor Walker to run for president – 27% indicated they wanted Walker to run, while 67% did not.

Among the field of sitting governors with potential presidential aspirations, Cuomo and Perry have the strongest home state advantage; both are consistently popular with a majority of their constituents. They are followed by Haley and Walker, who are unpopular among Democrats but continue to earn consistent support from Republicans in their states. Christie’s relationship with his constituency is so variable that he is in a league of his own. It’s hard to say with Mike Pence because of the lack of available polling information. Finally, O’Malley and Jindal are likely happy that their respective state primaries fall after Super Tuesday — and that big wins with away constituencies are likely more important than being beloved on their own turf.

Mileah Kromer, Ph.D., is Director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Goucher College

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