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Strength Of Governors In Presidential Races Takes A Dip In 2016


Yet another governor jumped into the presidential race today. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal announced in a tweet that he's officially running, and this brings the number of current and former governors running for the highest office to seven. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is here to talk about governors and what they might mean to the 2016 race. Domenico, welcome to the studio.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: So why are governors drawn to the White House, and how helpful is it to have governor on your resume?

MONTANARO: Well, traditionally it's been a very good thing, in fact. Historically, if you look back in the modern era, President Obama and JFK, back in 1960, are the only two senators who've ever made it to the White House directly from the Senate. That's a pretty important thing, especially considering you had four of the last five presidents before President Obama who were governors. And that's what we're seeing this time around with so many running for an open seat.

There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, when you think about how senators talk, they don't often talk in the language of regular people, with us talking about quorums and cloture votes and whether or not the amendment got attached to whatever legislation. That often finds its way on the campaign trail. It's an affliction that we political reporters like to call Senatese (ph), which is something that you've seen quite a bit over the years. Now, the second thing is more important, really. It's - people can size up their governors and see if they would be a good public policy executive, and it's a little bit of a mini-presidency when you can be a governor. And people really get a good sense, kicking the tires, looking under the hood on how you would legislate, how you would govern.

CORNISH: So you have a record to run on, but, of course, that record may not be so good, right? I mean, what's the downside here?

MONTANARO: Well, that's the risk, right? If your record is not so great, then that is potentially something that can harm you. And four of the current governors who are either in or likely to jump in - when you look at Jindal, who's in today, and then you have Scott Walker, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, who may jump in over the next month - you know, their records are mixed. Kasich is different than this - than the other - than the first three 'cause the first three have really seen their approval ratings plummet.

When you look at Jindal, he's angered the right and the left - on the right because of his attempt to eliminate tax rebates to try and close a $1.6 billion budget deficit that was there and, you know, his support for Common Core education standards at first and then flipped on that, angering both sides. So he's really had some difficulty in the state and has seen his approval rating drop to 27 percent in the latest poll back in in April. Scott Walker has been a lightning rod on several issues and most notably because of his fight over collective bargaining for public workers. And he remains a strong candidate - very popular with social and economic conservatives nationally.

On the other hand, the - with Chris Christie - no one has seen a more steep decline than Chris Christie. You know, he was somebody who was really the front runner a year ago. And now after the Bridgegate scandal, with the lane closures in that state, you've seen his ratings really drop. And he's become somebody who's very unpopular as compared to other Republican candidates. And that's a pretty significant - a significant thing, when you're looking at his pushover pension cuts. And this time around now, you've got - you've got Christie, you know - people ask me why is he running? Why is he not - why is he actually going to think about running here? Well, he's got no other office to run for. He's term-limited as governor, and he's said that he would rather die than be in the U.S. Senate.

CORNISH: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, speaking to us about the governor's race (laughter) for the presidency. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 23, 2015 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous audio version of this story said the number of current and former governors running for the highest office is six. Bobby Jindal's announcement brings that number to seven.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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