|U.Va. Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato is contributing a column every other week to Politico Magazine. This week, he examines the field of governors who are potential presidential candidates and how governors have fared in past runs for the White House. — The Editors
If you live under a governor, you mainly care about his or her ability to govern. If you don’t, and you’re in the political community, you primarily want to know whether a governor is presidential timber.
Our general preference for governors has emerged over time. In the republic’s first eight decades, the presidency was gained by candidates best known for being generals, vice presidents and secretaries of state. That last category, in particular, stands out as a surprisingly significant presidential feeder: Six of the first 15 presidents had previously served as secretary of state. The last was James Buchanan, whose disastrous tenure led up to the Civil War. No former secretary of state has been elected president since, which gives Hillary Clinton another historical barrier to break if she captures the White House.
It wasn’t until 1876 that an incumbent governor became president — Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. Actually, a governor had to win that year because the Democrats nominated Gov. Samuel Tilden of New York.
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