Obama meets governors. Is his successor in the crowd?

President Obama evoked Harry Truman's description of the presidency as an 'enlarged governorship' during a dinner with the National Governors Association. More than a few attendees are likely hoping to prove the adage right.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Obama, fourth from left next to Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting of the Democratic Governor's Association, Friday, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.

The nation’s governors assemble in the White House today to hear a policy speech from President Obama. It will be serious and potentially boring stuff, and as the statehouse chiefs sit in the impressive surroundings, perhaps the discussion of Department of Homeland Security funding will fade away and they’ll begin day-dreaming. What if it were them up there at the podium as president? Why not – aren’t statehouses the training ground for the nation’s chief executives?

Obama himself mentioned this in brief remarks at a dinner on Sunday.

“It’s wonderful to see you all here tonight,” he said to the assembled members of the National Governors Association. “Harry Truman once called the presidency an ‘enlarged governorship.’ Of course, a few of you are hoping that he was right.”

He got some laughs with that. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was in the room – he’s a likely 2016 Republican candidate. On Sunday he even posted a selfie with his son Alex that was taken in a White House corridor. Perhaps “Hail to the Chief” was playing in his head at that moment.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was there, too. He’s a Walker rival and recently completed a term as head of the Republican Governors Association. He’s traveled the nation raising money for his fellow GOP state leaders. He probably looked at Governor Walker and grumbled to himself that somebody needs to wait their turn.

As for Democrats, Martin O’Malley wasn’t there, because his tenure as governor of Maryland recently expired. But he seems to be preparing to run against Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries, which will perhaps be a thankless task. Other former governors who are all but certain to run include Jeb Bush, who ran Florida a while back, and Mike Huckabee, ditto in Arkansas.

So it’s certainly possible that an ex-governor will indeed occupy the White House in 2016. And if that’s the case, it will bolster the occupation’s record. It is indeed the most common of pre-presidential careers, barely.

Seventeen people who served at one point as a governor have become president, according to the Rutgers Center on the American Governor. That’s 39 percent of the total number of presidents. (Which is 44, if you didn’t know.)

Thomas Jefferson was the first. He was governor of Virginia. Besides Jefferson, Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler served as Virginia governors.

But the Old Dominion, despite its many Founding Fathers, is not the state with the most governors. That’s New York, which had four: Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt.

And governors have been political gold in recent decades, presidency-wise. Four of the last six sat in statehouses. That would be Jimmy Carter (Georgia), Ronald Reagan (California), Bill Clinton (Arkansas), and George W. Bush (Texas).

But governors do have competition. US senators are nipping at their wing-tipped heels. Sixteen senators have served as president, including former Sen. Barack Obama, according to the Senate Historical Office.

If Mrs. Clinton wins the presidency, that number will rise to 17, given that she was a senator from New York. So if it’s Clinton versus Jeb Bush in the general election, the contest won’t just be Democrat versus Republican. It will be Senate versus statehouse for presidential stepping-stone bragging rights.

[Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated the number of New York governors who went on to become president.]

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.