The Governors Dogging Obama

After four years of a White House run by two senators, the next presidential election may just be the year for governors. Mark McKinnon and Myra Adams on the leading contenders.

03.15.10 11:29 PM ET

Given the general antipathy toward Washington these days, it’s no surprise that most prospective GOP candidates for 2012 are current or former governors. The 2012 Republican ticket, in fact, could mark a first for our nation, with both presidential and vice-presidential nominees having served as current or former governors. A ticket of two statehouse executives would project strength and real-world budget-balancing experience—something that might be attractive to voters after four years of an administration with senators in the top jobs, both of whom lacked executive management experience.

Examining the names most bandied about for a GOP 2012 presidential run, it’s clear that governors rule.

Presidential Contenders

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniles speaks to delegates at the Indiana Republican State Convention in Indianapolis, Monday, June 2, 2008.  (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Michael Conroy

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels: The Man to Watch

The current and popular two-term Indiana governor was reelected with a 18-point margin in a red state that went blue for Barack Obama in 2008, a year that devoured Republicans everywhere. After much quiet speculation, Daniels now says he is open to running for president. Daniels is a pragmatic, everyman kind of pol who has gained notoriety as someone who knows how to cut a budget, dating back to his days as George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget chief. Hence the nickname, Mitch the Knife.

ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 03:  Republican U.S vice-presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waves as she walks on stage on day three of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center September 3, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will accept the GOP nomination for U.S. President Thursday night.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Ethan Miller

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: Most Likely to Replace Oprah

The chances of Sarah Palin actually running for elective office grow slimmer every day. She’s spending more time performing comedy routines on Leno and shopping around a reality-TV show than she is planning a campaign. However, Palin will have a great deal of influence on the 2012 candidates because she commands so much press attention; no candidate will dare incur her wrath. Proving the point, listen to Mitt Romney waxing poetic about Palin recently on David Letterman.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: Not a Game Changer

The Minnesota governor is not seeking a third term in 2010, which leaves him plenty of time to gather steam for his presidential run. Pawlenty was passed over by McCain as VP in 2008 in favor of Sarah Palin because McCain wanted a “game changer” on the ticket.

In 2012, it is doubtful that Pawlenty will be a “game changer” on his own. He has been the most aggressively open campaigner of the bunch so far, but has failed to gain much traction. He could become a strong second-choice candidate, and move himself over to the VP column.

Former Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney addresses the third session of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota September 3, 2008.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder    (UNITED STATES)   US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008  (USA)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Tanned, Rested, Rich, Ready, Re-loaded, and Re-Branded

The 2008 GOP presidential flameout Mitt Romney is the 2012 GOP front runner, or so conventional wisdom has it. Romney recently rocked the room at the annual CPAC beauty pageant and is now embarking on a tour for a book aptly titled No Apology: The Case for American Greatness—laying out a clear campaign theme and a not-so-subtle shot at the current occupant of the White House.

Romney’s “no apologies” tour could play well in Peoria, because the anger and paranoia in the heartland right now is all aimed squarely at Washington. His book is debuting at No. 1 on The New York Times’ bestseller list, a good sign of either grassroots support or ability to manufacture interest and sales. Both are important qualities for a candidate with an eye on the White House.

Vice-Presidential Contenders

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour: King of Republican Governors

Haley Barbour, the current two-term Mississippi governor reelected in 2007, serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, stepping in last year after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford spent too much time hiking the Appalachian Trail in Argentina.

Newsweek practically endorsed him in January, calling Barbour the “Anti-Obama” and “Mr. Fix It”. Barbour is someone to watch because he will be so influential in the 2010 governor’s races and will be a mainstay on the national news shows.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: New Kid on the Block

Christie beat a well-funded incumbent last year and has already made a mark proposing significant cuts in New Jersey’s budget. It’s probably too early for Christie to make the list, but if he’s successful taking on the unions and bureaucracy in New Jersey, the big man will make a big name for himself fast.

FORT WORTH, TX - FEBRUARY 29:  Republican presidential nominee hopeful Mike Huckabee talks with supporters Friday February 29, 2008, at the Fort Worth Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas.  The former Arkansas governor is well behind in delegates but hopes to do well in the largely conservative Texas.  (Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

Does the minister still have juice? Huckabee has been around the track and proved his vote-getting ability among Christian conservatives during the 2008 GOP presidential primaries. He’s got a pardon problem now that will hurt his 2012 chances for the top of the ticket, but the Fox News host might be able to overcome that problem to land the No. 2 job.

KENNER, LA - JUNE 03:  Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at an event with Republican presidential candidate John McCain at Pontchartrain Center June 3, 2008 in Kenner, Louisiana. The Arizona senator was speaking on the night that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) secured the Democratic nomination for president.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

Young, Southern, male, and not Caucasian. Elected in 2007 at the age of 36, Governor Jindal is up for reelection in 2011. He has no public plans beyond his reelection, but his name keeps popping up as the future of the GOP. An American of Indian descent, he was raised a Hindu and then converted to Catholicism in college. His ethnicity, smarts, and leadership abilities could land him on the GOP 2012 ticket to help dispel the notion that the Republican Party is old, white, male and Southern.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell delivers his State of the Commonwealth Address before a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly in the House chambers  at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Scott K. Brown)

Scott K. Brown

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Newly elected in a November GOP storm, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell defeated his Democratic opponent with a 17.4 percent margin of victory. This is in a formally red state that had just turned blue for Obama a year before. During his campaign, McDonnell downplayed his GOP affiliation—a move that helped him attract Democrats and independents in droves. Could this be the start of a trend?

Now let’s see if he can cut his budget and stay popular long enough to get the call in 2012. Romney is impressed by him; that alone is enough to land McDonnell on the list.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Perry is on his way to becoming the first three-term governor of Texas, after trouncing the popular GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in a primary challenge. And he had Sarah Palin’s endorsement, which he will surely take to the 2012 Tea Party bank if she doesn’t run. As an experienced campaigner with solid credentials with the ideological right, Perry could be the perfect choice to balance to a Northern nominee. And if he can overcome Texas fatigue and broaden his appeal, he could even jump into the top slot.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.

Myra Adams is a media producer, writer and political observer. She was on the creative team with Mark McKinnon that created the now-infamous John Kerry "Windsurfing" ad for the Bush 2004 presidential campaign and served on the McCain Ad Council during the 2008 McCain campaign. Myra's Web site,, contributes all profits to Christian charity.