A Governor’s Road to the White House

by John J. Pitney Jr.

The governor won his first term by beating the incumbent Democrat. Four years later, AP reported, “he drew substantial support from Hispanics and Democrats in addition to an overwhelming vote from members of his own party Tuesday to capture a second term, exit poll results showed.”

This passage comes from a 1998 story about Governor George W. Bush’s landslide reelection in Texas. Obviously, the Bush precedent is on Chris Christie’s mind as he contemplates a run for president. Bush relied heavily on this victory to make the case that he was the most electable Republican in the Republican field, and we should expect Christie to make similar claims.

But as the Bush precedent suggests, a gubernatorial triumph does not necessarily portend great strength in the next presidential election. In 1998, Bush had a weak opponent who was unable to turn out the kind of Hispanic support that a Texas Democrat needs. Two years later, when Bush ran for president, he did only a few points better among Hispanics than his father had in 1988, and he ended up losing the aggregate popular vote to Al Gore.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.


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