As Governors Eye The White House, Home Takes A Back Seat

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Gov. Scott Walker arrives at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire. Walker has long been a polarizing figure due to his epic battles with public employee unions, but a new poll this week shows a new and sizable drop in his approval rating. (Getty Images)
Gov. Scott Walker arrives at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire. Walker has long been a polarizing figure due to his epic battles with public employee unions, but a new poll this week shows a new and sizable drop in his approval rating. (Getty Images)

The list of official and likely candidates for president in 2016 includes some prominent Republicans who are currently governors. Three of them — Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal — all tout executive experience as qualification for the White House. They also share something else — slumping poll numbers back home.

They've been working to make themselves familiar and friendly faces to the party faithful in early voting states, including at a big event hosted last week by the New Hampshire GOP.

Jindal, the sitting governor of Louisiana, was there. Also, Wisconsin's Scott Walker, greeting the audience in Nashua with some regular-guy, Midwestern small talk.

"We're honored to be back here, New Hampshire," he said. "I wore a suit tonight. I didn't wear a $1 sweater like I did last time from Kohl's. Although I think this shirt is from Kohl's."

Kohl's, of course, is a reference to the Wisconsin-based department store.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire.

And there's New Jersey's Chris Christie, who mentioned a text he'd just gotten from his 14-year-old son.

"He's at school, and he said to me 'where are you?' And i said 'I'm on my way to New Hampshire.' And he's a bit of a wise guy — I don't know where that comes from — and he said 'your new home state,'" Christie said to laughs.

It's all part of the "getting to know you" phase of an early presidential campaign. And for a sitting governor, it's a time to tell the world — especially voters in New Hampshire and Iowa — just what you've accomplished back home.

That's something Walker tried to do: "We took $3.6 billion budget deficit and turned it into a surplus. In fact we've done it in each of the last four years," he said.

But as these three governors eye the White House, each is also dealing with low public approval at home.

"I didn't run for governor of New Jersey to be elected prom king," Christie said recently. "I'm not looking to be the most popular guy in the world, I'm looking to be the most respected one."
"I didn't run for governor of New Jersey to be elected prom king," Christie said recently. "I'm not looking to be the most popular guy in the world, I'm looking to be the most respected one."

Walker has long been a polarizing figure due to his epic battles with public employee unions. But a new poll this week shows a new and sizable drop in his approval rating. Charles Franklin of Marquette University noted that Walker has shifted his rhetoric to the right on issues including immigration and abortion. That has likely fueled some of the drop. And, Franklin said, being out of the state so much doesn't help.

"He has had a style in which he governs by traveling around the state in presenting his case. Three, four, five events a day around the state arguing for his positions," Franklin said. "Now he isn't able to do as many of those."

Christie's popularity in New Jersey reached an all-time low this week. There was the so-called "bridgegate" scandal early last year, but more recently there's deep discontent over his handling of the economy and changes to retirement benefits for state workers.

Jindal's approval is very low as well — fueled by his handling of the budget and education, among other things.

Governing is messy. And it's something a candidate not currently running a state doesn't have to worry about.

But political strategists like Rich Galen say that falling support at home — as long as it doesn't become a huge story on a hot button issue nationally — is not likely to have much impact on the presidential contest "as long as the dip is manageable."

"As long as the candidate doesn't feel that he or she has to race home to fix it. Then it's something that you let slide by and hope for the best as you move down the field," he said.

Now, there are other sitting governors who could still jump into the race. Like, say, say Ohio's John Kasich whose ratings have held up pretty well, so far.

But others wear their low approval ratings like a badge of honor. A sign of toughness. As Christie put it last weekend — he's not looking to be elected prom king.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Before the 2000 election, many Republican governors banded together behind a presidential candidate who was one of their own. He was Texas governor George W. Bush.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As the 2016 election approaches, many Republican governors are lining up for a chance. They include Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

INSKEEP: And Chris Christie of New Jersey.

GREENE: Not to mention Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

INSKEEP: They all share several qualities, like executive experience.

GREENE: A national reputation.

INSKEEP: And slumping poll numbers back home. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: They've been working to make themselves familiar and friendly faces to the party faithful in early voting states, including at a big event hosted this past week by the New Hampshire GOP.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let's give a warm first-in-the-nation welcome to Gov. Bobby Jindal.

(APPLAUSE)

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL: Thank y'all very, very much.

GONYEA: Jindal is the sitting governor of Louisiana. Also there was Wisconsin's Scott Walker, greeting the audience in Nashua with some regular-guy, Midwestern small talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: We're honored to be back here, New Hampshire. I wore a suit tonight. I didn't wear the $1 sweater like I did the last time, from Kohl's.

GONYEA: Kohl's, of course, is a reference to the Wisconsin-based department store. And there's New Jersey's Chris Christie, who mentioned a text he'd just gotten from his 14-year-old son.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: He's at school, and he said to me, where are you? And I said, I'm on my way to New Hampshire. And he's a bit of a wise guy - I don't know where that comes from...

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: ...He said your new home state.

GONYEA: It's all part of the getting-to-know-you phase of an early presidential campaign. And for a sitting governor, it's time to tell the world, and those voters in places like New Hampshire and Iowa, just what you've accomplished back home. Here's more from Scott Walker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALKER: We took a $3.6 billion budget deficit and turned it into a surplus. In fact, we've done it in each of the last four years.

GONYEA: But as these governors eye the White House, each is also dealing with low public approval at home. Take Walker - he's long been a polarizing figure due to his epic battles with public employee unions. But a new poll this week shows a sizable drop in his approval rating. Charles Franklin of Marquette University notes that Walker has shifted his rhetoric to the right on issues including immigration and abortion. That has likely fueled some of the decline. And, Franklin says, being out of the state so much doesn't help.

CHARLES FRANKLIN: He has had a style in which he governs by traveling around the state and presenting his case, three, four, five events a day around the state arguing for his positions. Now he isn't able to do as many of those.

GONYEA: Chris Christie's popularity in New Jersey reached an all-time low this week. There was the so-called Bridgegate scandal early last year. But more recently, there's deep discontent over his handling of the economy and changes to retirement benefits for state workers. Bobby Jindal's approval rating is very low as well, including his handling of the budget and education, among other things. But political strategists like Rich Galen say that falling support at home, as long as it doesn't become a huge story on a hot-button issue nationally, is not likely to have much impact on the presidential contest.

RICH GALEN: As long as the dip is manageable, as long as the candidate doesn't feel that he or she has to race home and fix it, then it's something you just sort of let slide by and hope for the best as you move down the field.

GONYEA: Now, there are other current governors who could still jump into the presidential race, like, say, Ohio's John Kasich, whose ratings have held up pretty well so far. But for others, they wear their low approval ratings like a badge of honor, a sign of toughness. As Chris Christie put it last weekend, he's not looking to be elected prom king. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.