There have been seventeen governors who have been elected as President of the United States. A couple weeks ago, I met and spoke with former Pennsylvania governor and congressman Tom Ridge over Zoom about why governors are always great choices for presidential candidates. There may be many motivations why governors may launch a presidential campaign (like in the case of former President Bill Clinton), but I want to focus on the journey from local office to presidential office.
The first governor to be elected president had to be Rutherford Hayes of Ohio. I could not find any issues that Hayes tackled on for his 1876 campaign, but it was nearly the end of Reconstruction as the Republicans withdrew all federal troops from the south who had fought in the Civil War.
Another governor who was elected president had to be Grover Cleveland, and is the only person to hold the presidency twice. The central issue within the 1884 election had to be personal character. The central issue for his 1892 rerun was the issues on tariffs that worked on the Republicans’ advantage, as well as the Homestead Strike in Pittsburgh. It should be noted in the US constitution, only two-four year terms can be served by a single person, even if that person vacates the presidency and runs again for a second term.
His successor, William McKinley, was also previously a state governor. His presidency also marked the start of rapid economic growth that would push the U.S. into the 20th century until he was ultimately assassinated in 1901. Woodrow Wilson also took the president’s chair from his previous role as a state governor. This was during a time where segregation was prevalent, which would lead to it being one of his criticisms.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was another president previously a state governor. Since he was elected at the time during the middle of the Great Depression, he managed to chew out incumbent Herbert Hoover in a landslide. He was also the longest-served president in history having served three consecutive terms and is the only president to have served more than two terms. Most presidents in the 19th century served at least one term. This was before the 22nd Amendment was passed to limit a president’s office time to two terms.
The most recent presidents to have come from a state governor position had to be Bill Clinton who defeated incumbent George H. W. Bush as a result of the economy tanking (aka, the Lost Decade) in 1992. Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, also previously served as state governor and remains the most recent state governor-to-president to date.
So there you have it. A little history of governors to presidents. If a person masters governing a certain state, many figure they can do the entire nation.