Why Governors matter

Historically, being a Governor is a better springboard for presidential ambitions than either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Four of the last five US presidents, including George W Bush, previously held a gubernatorial office. From this perspective, the Democrats' outlook is gloomy: the four states with the largest number of electoral college votes all currently have Republican governors: California, Florida, New York and Texas.

In 2005, only two governorships are up for election, New Jersey and Virginia. Both are Democrat and neither can be considered very safe.

In New Jersey, the outgoing Governor Jim McGreevey resigned effective from midnight on November 16 2004. By doing so he avoided the need for a special election to find a successor. Given that Governor McGreevey resigned amidst allegations of a gay affair, and somewhat more lurid rumours, this was probably a wise precaution as far as the local Democratic Party was concerned. The acting Governor is New Jersey State Senate President Richard J Codey. In gubernatorial elections New Jersey is considered competitive between the two main parties, Mr McGreevey replaced Republican Donald DiFrancesco in 2001. New Jersey has 15 electoral college votes for the presidency.

In Virginia (13 electoral college votes), the Governor can only serve one four-year term of office. In recent years both Senators and the presidential race have produced Republican wins. The Governor's chair changed hands in the last election (2001). With the trend in the South away from the Democrats, Virginia must be considered a difficult hold, unless a strong candidate can be found.

The last two successful Democratic presidential candidates had previously held office as the governors of Southern states: Bill Clinton (1992 and 1996) in Arkansas and Jimmy Carter (1976) in Georgia.

If I were the Republican Party's election strategist, my worst fear would be another Clinton: a young, photogenic, amiable, Southern state governor.

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