Governors whiff in endorsement game

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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzEl Chapo's lawyer fires back at Cruz: 'Ludicrous' to suggest drug lord will pay for wall Democrats have a chance of beating Trump with Julian Castro on the 2020 ticket Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again MORE (R-Texas), who benefitted from home field advantage.


In the Democratic contests to date, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Booker seeks dialogue about race as he kicks off 2020 campaign Capitalism: The known ideal MORE (I-Vt.) has won in four of the five states where the governor endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Why the national emergency? A second term may be Trump’s only shield from an indictment 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 John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration 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 Antonio RubioRubio in Colombia to push for delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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.