To win the White House, look to the statehouses

Rod Pennington Author, A Family Reunion
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Here’s a tip for Republicans who would like to see a new occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue two years from now. Don’t look to Washington for your next standard bearer; look to the statehouses. Since 1956 nine sitting presidents have run for re-election (I’m including Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford, both of whom weren’t actually elected to their first terms). Three were defeated while six were successful in securing a second term.

Presidents who lost re-election
Pres. George H. W. Bush lost to Gov. Bill Clinton
Pres. Jimmy Carter lost to Gov. Ronald Reagan
Pres. Gerald Ford lost to Gov. Jimmy Carter

Presidents who won re-election
Pres. George W. Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry
Pres. Clinton defeated Sen. Robert Dole
Pres. Reagan defeated VP Fritz Mondale
Pres. Nixon defeated Sen. George McGovern
Pres. Lyndon Johnson defeated Sen. Barry Goldwater
Pres. Dwight Eisenhower defeated Sen. Adlai Stevenson

Do you detect a pattern here? In the past 55 years, presidents running for re-election were 0-3 when their opponent was a governor and 6-0 when they were up against another Washington insider.

While members of the U.S. Senate never seem to suffer from any self-esteem issues, when it comes to making them president, voters don’t share their enthusiasm. When given a choice of a United States senator or anyone else, only once in American history — in the 1920 race between Sen. Warren G. Harding and Gov. James Cox — have the people chosen the senator. Sure, Sen. Kennedy won in 1960, but that’s like all of Barry Bonds’ home run records; there is an asterisk attached. If the dad of Pres. Obama’s current chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Bill Daley, hadn’t spent election night digging up voters from the local cemeteries, Nixon would have won Illinois and the election. In 2008 we elected only our third senator in 56 presidential elections; but again the game was rigged. Both of the major parties had nominated candidates from the Senate, so everyone was stuck with a Hobson’s choice. It makes you wonder how Pres. Obama might have fared against an energetic Washington outsider instead of a tired and listless Sen. McCain, who was short on ideas and passion.

The good news for Republicans is that they have a deep bench of well-qualified governors to challenge President Obama in 2012.

The Best of the best

Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana

Strengths: He is a great chief executive with White House experience as the director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bush II and his solution to healthcare reform is far better than Obamacare.

Weaknesses: He is a poor public speaker and doesn’t appear to have the “Fire in the Belly” for a bruising presidential run. His recent reaction to the Indiana legislature’s attempt to let Indiana be a “right-to-work” state will trouble many Republicans.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota

Strengths: He has been a successful governor from an important swing state.

Weaknesses: Poor speaker but getting better. He is tracking badly in Iowa and, being the governor of an adjoining state, anything less than a win in the Iowa caucus would be a disaster.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts

Strengths: Successful “blue” state governor and huge name recognition.

Weakness: While he may be the best November candidate the Republicans have, his flip-flop on abortion and his passage of healthcare reform in Massachusetts could be deal breakers in the primaries.

Best of the rest

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi

Strengths: He has many friends in Washington and did a tremendous job as the head of the Republican Governors Association.

Weaknesses: He has many friends in Washington; maybe too many. As a former lobbyist and the ultimate Beltway insider, it is unlikely the “Tea Party” folks would ever warm up to him.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas

Strengths: He has been a successful governor of a state the GOP must carry to win the White House.

Weaknesses: He had a tougher-than-expected re-election this past fall and the recession is finally catching up with Texas. 2011 could be a tough year for the Lone Star State and could take the shine off his rising star.

The most interesting

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey

Strengths: The darling of YouTube and not afraid to mix it up with the powerful New Jersey teachers’ unions. The “Tea Party” wing would love to see him run. Heck, the Democrats in New Jersey might vote for him just to get him out of Trenton.

Weaknesses: In 2012 he will have served less than one term as governor, and after the Obama fiasco Americans may want someone with a bit more seasoning. Plus, he can be a bit of hothead and the pressure of a national campaign greatly increases the risks of a meltdown. Also, his weight/health would be an issue.

The dark horses

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas

Strength: Amazing public speaker.

Weaknesses: It has been a while since he has held office. Working at Fox News will be a negative in the general election. Being an ex-pastor will give Independents the willies.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska

Strengths: Huge name recognition and a rabid group of followers.

Weaknesses: In December, her negatives ratings stood at 50% while Nancy Pelosi was only at 48%. She might be able to win the nomination but it could be another Sharron Angle-type train wreck in the general election. Angle was possibly the only person in the entire state of Nevada that could have lost to Sen. Harry Reid. Palin may be the only top-tier Republican who couldn’t beat Pres. Obama.

Not ready for 2012 but may be by 2016
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana
Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin
Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan

Like that great philosopher and former mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Berry, said when talking about Jesse Jackson’s run for the White House, “Jesse don’t wanna run nothing but his mouth.” The American people feel pretty much the same way about blowhard senators on the ultimate ego trip of a presidential quest. When given the option, they prefer someone who has actually run something other than their mouth.

Rod Pennington’s seventh novel will be out later this year and he has also sold two screenplays. In addition he is a prolific “ghostwriter” whose work has appeared under other people’s bylines in many major publications. He would tell who and where but then he would have to kill you.