Governors Who Became Vice President:
What's the Precedent for a Governor as Running Mate?
Center on the American Governor
July 10, 2012 (The Star-Ledger article based on this research is available here.)
Will former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney select another current or former governor as his vice-presidential nominee? History does not favor such a selection.
From John Adams (who took office with George Washington in 1789) through Joe Biden, elected with Barack Obama in 2008, the United States has had 47 vice presidents. Fifteen of them (32%) were previously governors, including George Clinton, who served from 1805 to 1812 as the number two to two presidents (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and Nelson Rockefeller, who was appointed to the office 1974.
Yet in modern times, looking to the pool of governors for potential vice presidents seems largely to have gone out of style. Fully half of the first 16 and five of the next 13 had been governors. However, only two of the 18 vice presidents to serve since Calvin Coolidge ascended to the presidency in 1923 had been a state’s chief executive. One, Spiro Agnew (MD), was elected and reelected in 1968 and 1972, and the other, Nelson Rockefeller (NY), was appointed in 1974.
|Governors Selected To Be Vice President|
|1789-1864 (75 years)||1868-1920 (52 years)||1924-2008 (84 years)|
|1796 Thomas Jefferson (VA)||1884 Thomas A. Hendricks (IN)||1968 Spiro Agnew (MD)|
|1804 George Clinton (NY)||1888 Levi P. Morton (NY)||1974 Nelson Rockefeller (NY)|
|1812 Elbridge Gerry (MA)||1900 Theodore Roosevelt (NY)|
|1816 Daniel D. Tompkins (NY)||1912 Thomas R. Marshall|
|1832 Martin Van Buren (NY)||1920 Calvin Coolidge (MA)|
|1840 John Tyler (VA)|
|1860 Hannibal Hamlin (ME)|
|1884 Andrew Johnson (TN)|
Having two governors on the same ticket is even less common. Only five teams of governors or former governors have been victorious, and none since 1912 when the Democratic governors of New Jersey and Indiana, Woodrow Wilson and Thomas R. Marshall, were elected. It has been more than 60 years since a party even put forward such a ticket; that was in 1948, when the Republican team of New York and California governors Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren was defeated by incumbent President Harry Truman and his vice presidential candidate, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky.
Winning Presidential Tickets with Two Governors
1804 Thomas Jefferson (VA) and George Clinton (NY)
1808 James Madison (VA) and George Clinton (NY)
1816 James Monroe (VA) and Daniel Tompkins (NY)
1884 Grover Cleveland (NY) and Thomas Hendricks (IN)
1912 Woodrow Wilson (NJ) and Thomas R. Marshall (IN)
Nevertheless, the vice presidency must seem a tempting role to governors and their supporters, at least in part for offering a possible springboard to a future presidency. In fact, six of the 17 governors who became president also had a stint as vice president on their resumes. Only one of the six, however – Theodore Roosevelt (NY) - had gained the number two spot on a ticket headed by another governor (William McKinley (OH).
Also sobering for governors seeking the vice presidency – and perhaps more so for a potential presidential nominee like Governor Romney - is that of the six governors to move from the vice presidency to the presidency, the most recent four all ascended to the office upon the death of the president. One must go back to Martin Van Buren’s victory in 1838 to find a former governor elected to the presidency after serving as vice president.
|Governors who became Vice President and then President|
|Thomas Jefferson||1779-1781 (VA)||1797-1801||1801-1809|
|Martin Van Buren||1829 (NY)||1833-1837||1837-1841|
|John Tyler||1825-1827 (VA)||1841||1841-1845|
|Andrew Johnson||1853-1857 (TN)||1865||1865-1869|
|Theodore Roosevelt||1889-1890 (NY)||1901||1901-1909|
|Calvin Coolidge||1919-1921 (MA)||1921-1923||1923-1929|
In total, nine vice presidents have been elected president, including four former governors, two of whom (Theodore Roosevelt (NY) and Calvin Coolidge (MA)) first gained the office when the president died. Of those nine, none has completed two terms as president. Richard Nixon came closest, as the only former vice-president to win two presidential elections, but he was forced to resign the office.
In conclusion, for governors setting their sights on the White House, the direct path of running at the top of the ticket has been more fruitful than making a stop to serve as vice president. This has been particularly true in recent times.
The vice-presidency, in fact, is currently in a 40-year gubernatorial drought. No present or former governor has been elected into the office since 1968 and 1972, when Spiro Agnew (MD) was Richard Nixon’s running mate for election and reelection; none has served since Nelson Rockefeller (NY) was named to the post by President Gerald Ford in 1974 after first Agnew and then Nixon resigned amidst different scandals; and only one – Sarah Palin (AK) in 2008 – has been a party’s vice presidential nominee.
The nine national elections held in that period from 1976 through 2008, however, saw a governor as one of the presidential nominees in all except for 2008. Moreover, a governor won in each of those elections, except for 2008 and 1988 when Vice President George H.W. Bush defeated Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Thus, while no governors were among the last six vice presidents, four were among the six most recent presidents: Jimmy Carter (GA), Ronald Reagan (CA), Bill Clinton (AR), and George W. Bush (TX).Of the 16 governors who became vice-president:
- Five served under a President who had also been a governor:
- George Clinton (NY) served under Thomas Jefferson (VA)
- Daniel Tompkins (NY) served under James Monroe (VA)
- Thomas Hendricks (IN) served under Grover Cleveland (NY)
- Theodore Roosevelt (NY) served under William McKinley (OH)
- Thomas Marshall (IN) served under Woodrow Wilson (NJ).
- Six went on to become president:
- Thomas Jefferson won election in 1800, and again in 1804
- Martin Van Buren won election in 1836
- John Tyler ascended following President Harrison’s death in 1841
- Andrew Johnson ascended following President Lincoln’s death in 1865
- Theodore Roosevelt ascended following President McKinley’s death in 1901,
then won election in 1904
- Calvin Coolidge ascended following President Harding’s death in 1923,
then won election in 1924.
- Eight were among the nation’s first 16 vice-presidents (1789-1865):
- Thomas Jefferson VA 1797-1801 - George Clinton NY 1805-1809; 1809-1812 - Elbridge Gerry MA 1813-1814 - Daniel D. Tompkins NY 1817-1825 - Martin Van Buren NY 1833-1837 - John Tyler VA 1841 - Hannibal Hamlin ME 1862-1865 - Andrew Johnson TN 1865
- Five were among the nation’s next 16 vice-presidents (1869-1941)
- Thomas A. Hendricks IN 1885 - Levi P. Morton NY 1889-1893 - Theodore Roosevelt NY 1901 - Thomas R. Marshall IN 1913-1921 - Calvin Coolidge MA 1921-1923
- Two were among the nation’s most recent 15 vice-presidents (1941- 2012)
- Spiro T. Agnew MD 1969-1973 - Nelson A. Rockefeller NY 1974-1977 (appointed)
- Six came from New York, two each from Indiana, Massachusetts and Virginia, and one each from Maine, Maryland and Tennessee:
New York (6) - George Clinton 1804, 1808 - Daniel Tompkins 1816 - Martin Van Buren 1832 - Levi Morton 1888 - Theodore Roosevelt 1900 - Nelson Rockefeller 1974 (appointed) Indiana (2) - Thomas A. Hendricks 1884 - Thomas Marshall 1912 Massachusetts (2) - Elbridge Gerry 1812 - Calvin Coolidge 1920 Virginia (2) - Thomas Jefferson 1795 - John Tyler 1840 Maine (1) - Hannibal Hamlin 1860 Maryland (1) - Spiro Agnew 1968 Tennessee (1) - Andrew Johnson 1860