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Governors and the Vice-Presidency

Posted at 4:15 pm June 27, 2016, in 2016 Election, U.S. Governors

The Vice-President’s residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.

The primaries are complete, the conventions are imminent, and it’s all but official. Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) will face off in the 2016 presidential election.

Attention now turns to the next piece of election drama: who will the nominees choose as their running mates? While the “Year of the Governor” did not pan out for the top of the ticket, could one or both of the nominees pick a current or former governor as their prospective Vice-President?

If so, it would buck recent trends. Since 1920 when Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge was elected as Warren Harding’s running mate, only two sitting or former governors have served as Vice-President—Maryland Governor (1967-1969) Spiro Agnew was elected Vice-President under Richard Nixon in 1968 and again in 1972 and former governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller (1959-1973) was appointed to the office in 1974. Indeed, governors have rarely even appeared as running mates in recent presidential elections. From 1980 through 2012, only one major party candidate for president picked a running mate with gubernatorial experience: Senator John McCain (R) in 2008, with his selection of Alaska Governor (2006-2009) Sarah Palin (R).

Still, it seems at least a realistic possibility in 2016. Trump, a businessman with no prior elected experience, may favor a running mate with governmental executive experience. Certainly, he would have plenty of sitting governors from which to choose; Republicans currently hold 31 of the nation’s 50 governorships. Many seem to be longshots, but a few—from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to Florida governor Rick Scott to Indiana governor Mike Pence—have been rumored to at least be receiving consideration (though former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean (1981-1989) feels at least one of those options would be a bad choice).

Clinton’s short list, meanwhile, reportedly includes a former governor: Tim Kaine of Virginia. Kaine is currently a U.S. Senator, but served as Virginia’s governor from 2006-2010.

Of course, both candidates are considering non-governors for the post as well, and will perhaps prefer a running mate with more direct Washington, D.C. experience. Or, in this year of political unpredictability, perhaps at least one surprise choice looms. The biggest surprise of all, however, may be that governors—largely afterthoughts in recent vice-presidential sweepstakes—might represent the “safest” choices for this year’s nominees.

For more on governors and the vice-presidency, see the Center on the American Governor study “Governors Who Became Vice-President.”

-Kristoffer Shields