Stateline Story

Govs Rarely Picked for VP Slot

  • August 20, 2008
  • By Daniel C. Vock

If a governor or former governor is tapped for the vice-presidential nomination for either the Democratic or Republican ticket this year, it'll be the first time since Spiro Agnew ran with Richard Nixon in 1972 that someone with governor's credentials appeared in the No. 2 slot.

Eleven former governors have served as vice president. Agnew was the last to run as a vice presidential candidate, but the most recent former governor to serve in the post was Nelson Rockefeller of New York, who became vice president to Gerald Ford following the resignations of Agnew and Nixon.

Both Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and his GOP counterpart, U.S. Sen. John McCain, are reportedly considering governors and ex-governors to round out their tickets.

Governors turned vice presidents
Source: National Governors Association

Among Obama's potential running mates are Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, a former two-term governor of Indiana.

McCain's list includes Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor who also served as the first U.S. secretary of homeland security.

But if a sitting governor successfully secures the vice presidency, it could shake up the politics of his or her home state, even giving the governorship to the other party in some cases.

  • If Virginia's Kaine were picked, the lieutenant governor is Bill Bolling, a Republican, giving the GOP control of the governor's mansion for the first time since 2002.
  • In Kansas, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson switched to the Democratic Party in 2006 after serving four years as Republican Party Chairman and as a Republican state legislator during the 1990s, so his ascension would put his party leanings to the test.
  • Pawlenty's early support of McCain gives him a leg up in the parlor game of vice-presidential speculation. His successor, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, is a Republican but she has attracted controversy. The state Senate last February removed her from her simultaneous post as transportation commissioner.

The vice presidency aside, history shows it's a good bet at least a few governors or former governors will be packing for Washington, D.C., in 2009.

Governors turned presidents
Source: National Governors Association, Stateline.org reporting

President Bush turned to four of his fellow Republican governors in his first term: Ridge, sworn in as the country's first homeland security advisor in 2001; Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who was named secretary of Health and Human Services; New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, who became administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 and who was succeeded in 2003 by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who later became secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Two more governors were tapped in Bush's second term: Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to be secretary of the Interior Department and Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, who served as secretary of agriculture until September 2007.

The absence of a governor in the top tier of presidential contenders is rare in recent years. Four of the last five presidents were governors first, and 17 of 43 presidents were governors.

The contest between McCain and Obama will be the first general election since 1972 that neither major party candidate was a governor or former governor. The 1972 race pitted Nixon against George McGovern, a U.S. senator. Nixon had lost in a 1962 race for California governor.