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Center on the American Governor > On Governors > U.S. Governors > Governors Running for President: While in Office or Afterwards

Governors Running for President: While in Office or Afterwards

It is common to see governors among those exploring possible candidacies. While many eventually opt not to run or fail to gain their party’s nomination, governors have captured a total of 55 presidential nominations. One or more has been on the November ballot for president or vice president in all but 12 of the country’s national election cycles.

Of the 43 presidents to date, 17 had experience as a governor before taking over the presidency. The first was Thomas Jefferson elected in 1800 and the most recent was George W. Bush, elected 200 years later.

More detailed information on governors in the White House is available here.

Several in this group – John Tyler (VA), Andrew Johnson (TN), Theodore Roosevelt (NY) and Calvin Coolidge (MA) – were vice-presidents who ascended when the president died.

The remaining 13 governors were all elected president. Almost half of them – six of 13 – were serving as governor when they ran for and attained the White House. This includes:

 

  • Rutherford B. Hayes (OH) in 1876
  • Grover Cleveland (NY) in 1884
  • Woodrow Wilson (NJ) in 1912
  • Franklin Roosevelt (NY) in 1932
  • Bill Clinton (AR) in 1992
  • George W. Bush (TX) in 2000

 

The other seven sought the presidency after their gubernatorial term(s) had ended:

 

  • Thomas Jefferson (VA) in 1800
  • James Monroe (VA) in 1816
  • Martin Van Buren (NY) in 1836
  • James Polk (TN) in 1844
  • William McKinley (OH) in 1896
  • Jimmy Carter (GA) in 1976
  • Ronald Reagan (CA) in 1980

 

In 2012, the Republican field included one sitting governor —Rick Perry (TX)—and former governors Jon Huntsman (UT) and the Party’s eventual nominee Mitt Romney (MA). Other former governors Gary Johnson (NM), Buddy Roemer (LA) and Tim Pawlenty (MN) also announced candidacies that year.

Eleven governors officially entered the 2016 presidential race–two Democrats and nine Republicans. Two candidates on the Democratic side were former governors:  Lincoln Chafee (RI, 2011-2015) and Martin O’Malley (MD, 2007-2015). Both were defeated by former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Five of the Republican candidates, meanwhile, were former governors: Jeb Bush (FL, 1999-2007); Jim Gilmore (VA, 1998-2000); Mike Huckabee (AR, 1996-2007); George Pataki (NY, 1995-2006); and Rick Perry (TX, 2000-2015). Four announced candidacies while sitting as governor: Bobby Jindal (LA, 2007-2016), who was a sitting governor during his candidacy, but whose term ended in January 2016, Chris Christie (NJ, 2009-present); John Kasich (OH, 2010-present); and Scott Walker (WI, 2010-present). The eventual Republican nominee was Donald Trump, who had not previous elected experience.

Governors were not as well represented on the 2020 ballot. Two former governors – Mark Sanford (SC) and Bill Weld (MA) – announced plans to challenge incumbent President Donald Trump in the Republican primary, but neither was a significant threat. On the Democratic side, four sitting or former governors entered the race: Steve Bullock (MT), John Hickenlooper (CO), Jay Inslee (WA), and Deval Patrick (MA). As of January 2020, only Patrick remains in the race. Bullock and Inslee were sitting governors when they announced their presidential bids; Hickenlooper and Patrick were former governors.