- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

Governors, who for the past three decades have been the gold standard for presidential candidates, have dramatically fallen out of favor so far this year.

On the Democratic side, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner never took the leap; former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack fled the race just three months after joining; and Sen. Evan Bayh, a former two-term governor of Indiana, also pulled out, leaving just one governor, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, in the race for president in 2008.

He and the four former governors making bids for the Republican nomination lag well behind the front-runners in their respective parties in early national opinion polls.

“It’s a whole new world post-September 11,” said Chuck Larson, a former Iowa state senator and a supporter of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. “Foreign policy and national security have moved to the very top of the list for voters’ concerns.”

Mr. Larson said traditionally he has been a fan of governors running but decided this time around they lack the type of experience the presidency now requires. That is one reason he is backing Mr. McCain, a long-serving legislator who can boast those credentials.

Still, Barry C. Burden, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin who studies presidential campaigns, said the governors are due for a comeback.

“The governors are undervalued at the moment. If I were an investor, I’d invest in governors,” he said. “During these next few months, they’re going to begin to introduce themselves.”

Mr. Burden said polls this early in a cycle are usually misleading because they register name recognition more than anything else, and it’s usually senators “the people who show up on the Sunday talk shows and are traveling the country doing fundraisers for other people” who have high profiles.

Although this year’s candidate crop is heavy on senators, Mr. Burden’s research shows just two of the nation’s 43 presidents have won election while holding a Senate seat.

Four of the past five presidents were governors. The exception is the first President Bush, who was vice president when he won the White House.

Seeking the nomination on the Republican side are former Govs. James S. Gilmore III of Virginia, who left office in 2002; Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who left office this year; and Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin, whose 14-year stretch as governor ended in 2001 when he joined the Bush administration.

In an election when Republicans are looking to a leader to help rebuild the party after being thumped in the 2006 off-year elections, all four of those states are now governed by Democrats. Only Mr. Thompson had a Republican succeed him and that was because he left office in the middle of a term and his Republican lieutenant governor took over, only to lose to a Democrat in the next election.

The big states such as Florida and California which could produce strong, high-profile national candidates, are in down years. Florida has a brand-new governor, and the former governor, Jeb Bush, is probably not viable because of his family ties. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, not having been born in the United States, is ineligible to run.

And the South, which has been the Democrats’ proving ground for governors, has not turned out any possibilities other than Mr. Warner, who decided that running would interfere with his family life.

Mr. Vilsack’s decision last month to drop out of the race underscored the challenge for most governors: “It is money and only money that is the reason we are leaving today,” the Iowan said at the time.

For his part, Mr. Richardson is trying to make the most out of his credentials, saying during his first trip to Iowa after announcing his run that the voters he talked to were still hungry for someone with executive experience.

“I am emphasizing that I’m a governor who actually gets things done,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Senators start the fundraising game with a leg up because they are already federal officeholders and can transfer money from their Senate campaigns into presidential campaigns. That’s the route Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton took, reporting more than $11 million in available cash in her Senate campaign account at the end of 2006.

And that matters this year more than most both because of the intense nature of the campaign so early, and because so many large states are moving up their primaries, which means the contests will be fought through television commercials far more than in the past.

But, Mr. Burden said, the long campaign also can be a disadvantage for senators, who often stumble because they have the baggage of so many votes to be scrutinized.

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