Governors whiff in endorsement game

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Sitting governors in both parties seeking to influence the presidential race in their home states are failing miserably so far in 2016.

Republican governors are batting 1-9 with their endorsements. Only Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) got it right by supporting Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzCruz-backed candidate wins GOP primary in Colorado Trump hires Rand Paul's former digital director: report Trump camp slating major sports figures for convention: report MORE (R-Texas), who benefitted from home field advantage.

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In the Democratic contests to date, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary Sanders-backed candidate wins NY House primary The Trail 2016: 11 hours, 800 pages, 0 changed minds MORE (I-Vt.) has won in four of the five states where the governor endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAmbassador's sister: I don't blame Clinton for Benghazi Clinton to Trump supporters: 'Don’t look for easy answers' Seven key findings in the Benghazi report MORE.

All told, the governors have ended up on the wrong side of voters in 12 of 14 elections. More often than not, the candidates they’ve backed were defeated in a rout.

Political analysts say the phenomenon is further evidence of the fierce anti-establishment mood of the electorate, which has buoyed outsider or insurgent candidates like Cruz, Sanders and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem Suozzi wins NY primary to replace Israel Dems separated by 29 votes in NY House primary Sanders-backed candidate wins NY House primary MORE.

“Voters this year don’t want to be told what to do. They want to make their choice free of anything,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “I don’t know why any of these governors would risk their coattails in a cycle this unpredictable.”

On the Republican side, the governors’ poor track record has mostly been the result of endorsing Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioPoll: Rubio, Murphy neck-and-neck in Florida Senate race Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding The Trail 2016: 11 hours, 800 pages, 0 changed minds MORE (R-Fla.), who has attracted significant support from the party’s establishment but has very little to show for it in terms of winning delegates.

In February, Rubio won what was perhaps the most coveted gubernatorial endorsement of the cycle: Nikki Haley, the popular governor of early-voting South Carolina.

Haley campaigned hard for Rubio, but Trump still won the Palmetto State primary by double digits. Haley might have helped Rubio secure second place — he finished fewer than 1,000 votes ahead of Cruz — but his success has continued to be limited since that Feb. 20 contest.

Rubio also won the backing of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson prior this month’s Super Tuesday contests on March 1. Both appeared in ads for Rubio and campaigned on his behalf, but neither could save him from distant third-place finishes behind Trump and Cruz.

Rubio canceled campaign events on Friday in Louisiana and Kentucky to make a late push in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback had endorsed him. Rubio again finished in third place a day later, this time more than 30 points behind Cruz, who won the caucuses there.

But Rubio isn’t the only candidate to disappoint a state’s Republican governor.

Gov. Paul LePage came out in favor of Trump in Maine shortly before the businessman suffered a big loss there Saturday at the hands of Cruz.

And John Kasich, himself the governor of Ohio, won the endorsement of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley but lost to Trump by nearly 40 points there on March 1, failing to qualify for any delegates at all.

In addition, there are two Republican governors who didn’t endorse but sought to influence the race by advocating against the candidate who ended up winning.

Ahead of the Iowa caucuses in early February, popular and highly influential Gov. Terry Branstad dramatically declared that Cruz must be defeated. Instead, more than 50,000 Iowans turned out to caucus for Cruz, sending him to a record-setting victory in the first contest of the election cycle.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker was more cautious, but he let it be known that he would not be voting for Trump. That put Baker at odds with nearly half of his state’s Republican primary voters, who gave Trump a victory by more than 30 points.

“There are going to be some governors with some patching-up to do with whoever is the eventual nominee,” O’Connell said.

Democratic governors have suffered similar embarrassments.

Govs. Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Peter Shumlin (Vt.), Mark Dayton (Minn.), and John Hickenlooper (Colo.) all endorsed Clinton for president before elections in their states. Sanders won those states by between 19 points and 73 points.

Virginia is the only state where Clinton was endorsed by the sitting governor, Terry McAuliffe, and won.

Despite their inability to sway voters, most of the governors in question enjoy high favorability ratings at home.

Baker, Hutchison and Haslam have some of the highest favorability ratings of any governor in the country.

Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is also popular and celebrated as a leader of the next generation of the conservative movement.

Dayton is the most popular Democratic governor in the country, and a majority of constituents view both Hickenlooper and Hassan positively.

“Voters aren’t rebuking the governors personally, as much as saying that they’re not going to take their cues from them this cycle,” said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University. “It’s a reflection of the of the anti-establishment sentiment we’re seeing across the board.”

The failure by the state executives to back winning candidates comes on the heels of similarly poor showings by current and former governors in the presidential contests.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the first candidate to drop out of the GOP race. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush soon followed him to the exit.

Kasich is the last state executive standing, but with no clear path to the nomination, he’s under increasing pressure to drop out of the race.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was the only governor to run for the Democratic nomination, and he left that race last year after having little impact.

Many once believed that after eight years of President Obama, who was elected to the White House before finishing his first term in the Senate, primary voters would be eager to support an experienced executive.

Instead, voters have moved behind outsiders or insurgents, leaving the governors to wield little influence over the 2016 race.

 “Given the factors we generally think are helpful in predicting election outcomes, it’s been very difficult to make sense of this cycle, because it’s breaking all the rules and doesn’t fit into the mold of any historical patterns,” Panagopoulos said.