Governors and the White House - Eagleton Center on the American Governor (2023)

In addition to the information below, also see: Governors and the Presidency: How They Campaign, How They Govern, by Walter Shapiro and Jill Lawrence, a report commissioned by the Eagleton Center on the American Governor in 2012.

Of the 80 Americans who have served as President, Vice President or both since the nation was formed, 27 or just over one-third had been governor of a state. This includes 17 of the 45 presidents (38%) and 16 of the 49 vice presidents (33%).

Over the 59 national elections held to date, governors have captured a total of 55 presidential nominations. Twenty-seven were elected and, most recently with former Governor Romney’s defeat in 2012, 29 have lost. If the five third party candidates are discounted, however, one can say that 53% of the major party nominees who had been governors were victorious.

In all but 13 of the national elections, at least one governor has been on the November ballot as a presidential or vice presidential nominee. Two governors were on the ballot for 18 elections, and three nominated in two elections – 1912 and 1916.

Many other governors who sought the presidency or hoped for the vice presidency were not nominated. Some ran major national campaigns, while others hoped status as their state’s favorite son might lead to victory, and many more launched trial balloons that were little noticed and quickly punctured.

(Video) Governors of New Jersey - Michael Birkner at Eagleton Institute

The large field that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney bested to capture the 2012 Republican presidential nomination included five other current or former governors – Jon Huntsman (UT), Gary Johnson (NM), Tim Pawlenty (MN), Rick Perry (TX), and Buddy Roemer (LA) – as well as intense speculation about at least four others – Haley Barbour (MS), Jeb Bush (FL), Chris Christie (NJ), and Mike Huckabee (AR).

The 2016 primary races included even more governors. Eleven current or former governors officially declared themselves candidates – Jeb Bush (R-FL), Lincoln Chafee (D-RI), Chris Christie (R-NJ), Jim Gilmore (R-VA), Mike Huckabee (R-AR), Bobby Jindal (R-LA), John Kasich (R-OH), Martin O’Malley (D-MD), George Pataki (R-NY), Rick Perry (R-TX), and Scott Walker (R-WI).

The 2020 primary race showed a different trend, however. Only four candidates with gubernatorial experience entered the Democratic primary: sitting Governors Steve Bullock (MT) and Jay Inslee (WA) and former Governors John Hickenlooper (CO) and Deval Patrick (MA). Bullock, Hickenlooper, and Inslee all withdrew from the race before the first primary, with Hickenlooper choosing instead to run for a U.S. Senate seat while Inslee will seek reelection as governor. Patrick entered the race in late 2019 and and announced he would end his campaign on February 12, 2020. Two former governors also announced they would run against incumbent President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination: Mark Sanford (SC) and Bill Weld (MA). Neither posed a serious threat to Trump, however. Finally, former Governor Lincoln Chafee (RI) announced that he would seek the Libertarian nomination. Ultimately, for the second straight presidential election, neither major party nominated a candidate with gubernatorial experience.

For 2024, one former governor–Nikki Haley (SC)–has already announced her entrance into the Republican primary. She is the first woman governor or prior governor to enter a presidential primary.

Governors Who Became President

by David J. Andersen and John Weingart

Since its founding in 1787, the United States has had 45 presidents and over 2,300 governors. While the paths to the White House have ranged from long careers in lower levels of politics to military backgrounds to only brief prior forays in the public domain, one of the most common prior experiences has been serving as a state’s governor. Seventeen presidents* (almost 40%) had previously held office as chief executive of a state, providing them with experience in running a government bureaucracy, dealing with a legislature and responding to the judiciary.

NameTermGov. StateTerm(s)Elected
3Thomas Jefferson1801-1809Virginia1779-1781No
5James Monroe1817-1825Virginia1799-1802No
8Martin Van Buren1837-1841New York1829No
10John Tyler1841-1845Virginia1825-1826No**
11James K. Polk1845-1849Tennessee1839-1841No
17Andrew Johnson1865-1869Tennessee1853-1857No**
19Rutherford B. Hayes1877-1881Ohio1868-1872; 1876-1877Yes
22Grover Cleveland1885-1889New York1883-1884Yes*
24Grover Cleveland1893-1897New York1883-1884No*
25William McKinley1897-1901Ohio1892-1896Yes
26Theodore Roosevelt1901-1909New York1899-1900Yes***
28Woodrow Wilson1913-1921New Jersey1911-1913Yes
30Calvin Coolidge1923-1929Massachusetts1919-1920Yes***
32Franklin Roosevelt1933-1945New York1929-1932Yes
39Jimmy Carter1977-1981Georgia1971-1974No
40Ronald Reagan1981-1989California1967-1974No
42Bill Clinton1993-2001Arkansas1979-1980; 1983-1993Yes
43George W. Bush2001-2009Texas1995-2000Yes
*Grover Cleveland, president for two non-consecutive terms, is counted as only one of the nation’s 43 presidents and one of the 17 who had been a state’s governor.
**Elected vice-president, ascended to the presidency upon the death of the president, but never elected president in his own right.
***Elected vice president, ascended to the presidency and later elected president in own right

The first governor to win the White House, Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, was elected in 1800. The most recent, George W. Bush from Texas, won exactly 200 years later. While examining the 17 governors and 23 non-governors elected over that time yields no discernable pattern, potentially interesting observations can be advanced:

  • The 17 presidents came from ten states with New York providing four, Virginia three and Ohio and Tennessee two each. The others were from Arkansas, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas.
  • One Governor has followed another to the White House five times:
    • 1845, when James K. Polk (TN) succeeded John Tyler (VA);
    • 1897, when William McKinley (OH) followed Grover Cleveland (NY);
    • 1901, when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt (NY) succeeded William McKinley (OH) after his assassination;
    • 1981, when Ronald Reagan (CA) followed Jimmy Carter (GA);
    • 2001, when George W. Bush (TX) followed Bill Clinton (AR).
  • The two longest runs of presidents who were not governors were from:
    • 1849 to 1865 (16 years) when five non-governors served between John Tyler (VA) and Andrew Johnson (TN); and
    • 1945 to 1977 (32 years) when six non-governors served between Franklin Roosevelt (NY) and Jimmy Carter (GA).
    • Note that a governor has not served as president from 2008 to 2020 (12 years), a streak that is unlikely to change in the 2020 election.
  • Neither current President Donald Trump nor his immediate predecessor Barack Obama had gubernatorial experience. However, four of the seven most recent presidents (57%) were governors, and Four of the 13 most recent presidents (31%) were governors:
    • Governors Jimmy Carter(GA), Ronald Reagan(CA), Bill Clinton(AR) and George W. Bush(TX) served consecutively from 1981-2009. They were immediately preceded by six non-governors who were president between 1945-1977 (Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford).
  • Two of the 17 governors elected to the presidency did not carry the state they had led:
    • James K. Polk (TN) in 1844
    • Woodrow Wilson (NJ) in 1916
  • Eight of the 17 were serving as governor when they successfully ran for president while nine had a gap between the two offices.
  • The first governor to seek the presidency while serving as governor was Rutherford B. Hayes OH) in 1876 followed by Grover Cleveland (NY) in 1884, William McKinley (OH) in 1896, Woodrow Wilson (NJ) in 1912, Calvin Coolidge (MA) in 1920, Franklin D. Roosevelt (NY) in 1932, Bill Clinton (AR) in 1992 and George W. Bush (TX) in 2000.
  • The nine presidents who held other positions between their governorships and their successful races for the White House included the first six to hold both jobs: Thomas Jefferson (VA) in 1800, James Monroe VA) in 1816, Martin Van Buren (NY) in 1836, William Harrison (Ind. Terr.) in 1840, James K. Polk (TN) in 1844, and Andrew Johnson (TN) who ascended in 1865, as well as Grover Cleveland (NY) in 1884, Jimmy Carter (GA) in 1976 and Ronald Reagan (CA) in 1980.
(Video) Charles C. Carella interview 12.14.2009 (Center on the American Governor)

Governors Nominated But Defeated for President

by Amy Zacks
Contributor to the Center on the American Governor
(updated February 2015 by Kristoffer Shields)

(Video) Harold Martin interview 5.14.2009 (Center on the American Governor)

While 17 sitting or former governors have served as President of the United States (including Presidents John Tyler and Andrew Johnson, who ascended to the White House), 23 sitting or former governors have received a party nomination but were then defeated in November. This includes:

  • Three incumbent presidents who lost their bids for reelection:
    • Martin Van Buren* (NY) in 1840
    • Grover Cleveland (NY) in 1888
    • Jimmy Carter (GA) in 1980
  • Two former presidents who had been out of office four or eight years:
    • Martin Van Buren* (NY)
    • Theodore Roosevelt (NY)
  • Three governors who were unsuccessful nominees twice:
    • Martin Van Buren* (NY) in 1840 and 1848
    • Thomas Dewey (NY) in 1944 and 1948
    • Adlai Stevenson (IL) in 1952 and 1956
      • *Note that Martin Van Buren is in all of these first three groups
  • One who was elected president four years later:
    • William Henry Harrison (IN Terr)
  • Four who lost under a different party affiliation than they had used in prior elections:
    • Martin Van Buren (NY)
    • Theodore Roosevelt (NY)
    • Strom Thurmond (SC)
    • George Wallace (AL)

Stated another way, sitting and former governors have received a party nomination and then lost the general election a total of 26 times. This includes 1848 and 1948, both years when two governors suffered this outcome; Martin Van Buren (NY) as a Free Soil candidate and Lewis Cass (MI Territory) running as the Democrat in 1848, and Thomas Dewey (NY) as the Republican nominee and Strom Thurmond (SC) running on the States’ Rights Dixiecrat ticket in 1948.

Two additional candidates who lost their bids for the presidency –DeWitt Clinton (NY) in 1812 and George McClellan (NJ) in 1864 – would later move on to be governor or their own states.

Over these 26 national defeats by 23 governors:

  • Eleven occurred while the nominee was serving as his or her state’s governor (including Thomas E. Dewey (NY) twice)
  • Fifteen occurred after the nominee was no longer governor (including three who were incumbent Presidents who lost their bids for reelection: Martin Van Buren (1840), Grover Cleveland (1888), and Jimmy Carter (1980); Van Buren ran and lost again in 1848).
  • Two served as a governor before and after running for President (John C. Fremont (AZ) and George Wallace (AL))
  • Of the 26 times governors received a party nomination and were then defeated for president, only three states are represented more than once:
    • New York, with 13 nominees including Martin Van Buren and Thomas Dewey twice each
    • Illinois, with two races by Adlai Stevenson
    • Massachusetts with Michael Dukakis (1988) and Mitt Romney (2012)
  • Four winning presidential candidates, including three who had been governors, defeated a governor in two elections:
    • James Madison beat NY Governors George and Dewitt Clinton
    • Woodrow Wilson (NJ) defeated Theodore Roosevelt (NY) in 1912 and Charles Evan Hughes (NY) in 1916
    • Franklin Roosevelt (NY) beat Alfred Landon (KN) in 1936 and Thomas Dewey (NY) in 1944
    • Dwight Eisenhower won over Adlai Stevenson (IL) in 1952 and 1956
  • The two governors to most recently win a presidential nomination and lose the general election were both from Massachusetts:
    • Michael Dukakis (D) lost to George H.W. Bush (1988)
    • Mitt Romney (R) lost to Barack Obama (2012)
  • The most recent victories by a governor in a presidential election were:
    • 1992 and 1996 when Bill Clinton (AR) was elected and reelected
    • 2000 and 2004 when George W. Bush (TX) was elected and reelected

Governors Running for President: While in Office or Afterwards

It is common to see governors among those exploring possible candidacies. While many eventually opt not to run or fail to gain their party’s nomination, governors have captured a total of 55 presidential nominations. One or more has been on the November ballot for president or vice president in all but 12 of the country’s national election cycles.

Of the 43 presidents to date, 17 had experience as a governor before taking over the presidency. The first was Thomas Jefferson elected in 1800 and the most recent was George W. Bush, elected 200 years later.

More detailed information on governors in the White House is available here.

Several in this group – John Tyler (VA), Andrew Johnson (TN), Theodore Roosevelt (NY) and Calvin Coolidge (MA) – were vice-presidents who ascended when the president died.

The remaining 13 governors were all elected president. Almost half of them – six of 13 – were serving as governor when they ran for and attained the White House. This includes:

(Video) Clinton Pagano interview 6.10.2009 (Center on the American Governor)

  • Rutherford B. Hayes (OH) in 1876
  • Grover Cleveland (NY) in 1884
  • Woodrow Wilson (NJ) in 1912
  • Franklin Roosevelt (NY) in 1932
  • Bill Clinton (AR) in 1992
  • George W. Bush (TX) in 2000

The other seven sought the presidency after their gubernatorial term(s) had ended:

  • Thomas Jefferson (VA) in 1800
  • James Monroe (VA) in 1816
  • Martin Van Buren (NY) in 1836
  • James Polk (TN) in 1844
  • William McKinley (OH) in 1896
  • Jimmy Carter (GA) in 1976
  • Ronald Reagan (CA) in 1980
(Video) Ken Zimmerman interview (Center on the American Governor) 7.11.2019


Who is the oldest governor in the United States? ›

State governors

In terms of age, Alabama governor Kay Ivey (born 1944) is the oldest governor, and Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (born 1982) is the youngest.

What is the order of succession to the office of governor? ›


In the event of a vacancy in office, the lieutenant Governor is the designated official who succeeds the Governor in 49 states and territories (in two of which—Tennessee and West Virginia—the president/speaker of the Senate and lieutenant Governor are one and the same).

Which presidents were governors? ›

One, William Howard Taft, served as a territorial governor. One, Andrew Jackson, served as a military governor of a territory (Florida) before it became a state. Johnson served in Tennessee during the Civil War.

Do governors have more power than the president? ›

Governors can veto state bills, and in all but seven states they have the power of the line-item veto on appropriations bills (a power the President does not have). In some cases legislatures can override a gubernatorial veto by a two-thirds vote, in others by three-fifths.

Who is the youngest governor ever? ›

He won election as Governor of Minnesota in 1938. Stassen is the youngest person elected to that office. He gave the keynote address at the 1940 Republican National Convention.

Who was the longest-serving governor 7 years? ›


Holding office for over seven years, Sir Benegal Rama Rau was the longest-serving governor, while Amitav Ghosh's 20-day term is the shortest. The bank's fifteenth governor, Dr Manmohan Singh, later became India's thirteenth prime minister.

Who is next in line if governor dies? ›

In most cases, the lieutenant governor is the highest officer of state after the governor, standing in for that officer when they are absent from the state or temporarily incapacitated. In the event a governor dies, resigns or is removed from office, the lieutenant governor typically becomes governor.

Who is 2nd and 3rd in line for succession of the presidency? ›

Current order of succession
1Vice PresidentDemocratic
2Speaker of the House of RepresentativesRepublican
3President pro tempore of the SenateDemocratic
4Secretary of StateDemocratic
14 more rows

Do governors have term limits? ›

The governor holds the office for four years and can choose to run for reelection. The Governor is not eligible to serve more than eight years in any twelve-year period.

Which president had 15 kids? ›

John Tyler was the most prolific of all American President: he had 15 children and two wives. In 1813, Tyler married Letitia Christian, the daughter of a Virginia planter.

Has any had a Republican governor? ›

Pataki made up for a soft performance in New York City by running up a decisive margin outside of it, especially among upstaters disenchanted with Cuomo. Pataki won all but one county outside the Five Boroughs. Pataki became New York's first elected Republican governor since Nelson Rockefeller.

Who was the only man to be president and then governor? ›

Running as a reformer, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo in 1881, and later, Governor of New York. Cleveland won the Presidency with the combined support of Democrats and reform Republicans, the “Mugwumps,” who disliked the record of his opponent James G.

Can a president override a governor? ›

No federal statute gives the president the authority to override state decisions. Nor does he possess this inherent authority under Article II of the Constitution. Nor do any other provisions of the Constitution (such as the interstate commerce clause) confer this power on him.

Who is the boss of the president? ›

The White House chief of staff is the head of the Executive Office of the President of the United States and a cabinet position, in the federal government of the United States.

Who has the strongest governor? ›

Because of the extent of these constitutional powers, the governor of Maryland has been ranked as being among the most powerful governors in the United States.

Who was the youngest female governor ever? ›

At the time she became acting governor, Swift was 36 years old, making her the youngest female governor or acting governor in U.S. history. North Adams, Massachusetts, U.S.

Who is the youngest woman governor? ›

She is the first woman to hold the office, the first woman to be governor of a state of which her father was also governor, and the youngest current governor. Sanders has been recognized in Fortune and TIME magazine's "40 under 40".

Has an independent ever won governor? ›

In the 369 gubernatorial elections since 1990, third party or independent candidates have won at least 5.0% of the vote 53 times (14%), while six candidates have won election (2%). The most recent third party or independent governor to win was Alaska's Bill Walker, a Republican turned independent, in 2014.

Who is the longest-serving female governor? ›

Sarojini Naidu was the first woman to become the governor of an Indian state. She governed Uttar Pradesh from 15 August 1947 to 2 March 1949. Her daughter, Padmaja Naidu, is the longest-serving female governor with almost 11 years tenure in West Bengal.

Who was the longest-serving head of government in history? ›

The longest reign of any Non-Disputed Monarch was those of Abd al-Muttalib who was the Lord of Quraysh in present-day Saudi Arabia but he was only a Lord and of a Low Rank. Raja Sawai Basavalinga I Rajendra Udaiyer who ruled over as the Raja of Sundem (Portuguese India) for 80 years, between 1763 and 15 May 1843.

Who is the longest-serving lieutenant governor? ›

John Shelton Wilder (June 3, 1921 – January 1, 2010) was an American politician who was the 48th Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee for 36 years from January 1971 to January 2007, possibly the longest time anyone has served as Lieutenant Governor or a similar position in the history of the United States.

Who is the oldest living former U.S. governor? ›

Personal life. Quie is a devout Lutheran. Quie's grandfather joined the newly founded Republican Party and supported Abraham Lincoln for president in the 1860 United States presidential election. Quie is the oldest living former governor and oldest living former U.S. Representative.

Which president was a former governor? ›

In 1966 he was elected Governor of California by a margin of a million votes; he was re-elected in 1970. Ronald Reagan won the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980 and chose as his running mate former Texas Congressman and United Nations Ambassador George Bush.

What former governor ran for president? ›

Michael Dale Huckabee (/ˈhʌkəbi/, born August 24, 1955) is an American Baptist minister, political commentator, and former politician who served as the 44th governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007. He was a candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination in both 2008 and 2016.

Is there a term limit for governors? ›

The governor holds the office for four years and can choose to run for reelection. The Governor is not eligible to serve more than eight years in any twelve-year period. Was this article helpful?

Who is the oldest U.S. politician in office? ›

She also chaired the International Narcotics Control Caucus from 2009 to 2015 and was the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2017 to 2021, during the Trump administration. At 89, Feinstein is the oldest sitting U.S. senator and member of Congress.

Can you be president and governor at the same time? ›

II, Sec. 1, cl. 7). However, the Constitution places no restrictions that would prevent state or local office holders from simultaneously holding office in any branch of the federal government.

Who is the oldest living former politician? ›

The oldest living former state leader is Khamtai Siphandone of Laos at the age of 99 years, 122 days. Leaders currently in office are in bold in green, with Paul Biya of Cameroon being the oldest currently serving head of state.

Which president was called silent Cal? ›

Elected in his own right in 1924, Coolidge gained a reputation as a small-government conservative with a taciturn personality and dry sense of humor that earned him the nickname "Silent Cal".

Which president served the longest term? ›

William Henry Harrison spent the shortest time in office, while Franklin D. Roosevelt spent the longest. Roosevelt is the only American president to have served more than two terms.

Who was the only man to be President and then governor? ›

Running as a reformer, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo in 1881, and later, Governor of New York. Cleveland won the Presidency with the combined support of Democrats and reform Republicans, the “Mugwumps,” who disliked the record of his opponent James G.

Who was the only President never elected president or vice president? ›

Ford succeeded to the presidency when Nixon resigned in 1974, but was defeated for election to a full term in 1976. Ford is the only person to become U.S. president without winning an election for president or vice president.

Who was the only President elected to the Senate after being President? ›

Richard Nixon was elected the 37th President of the United States (1969-1974) after previously serving as a U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator from California.

What does the 22nd amendment say? ›

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

How many times can a senator be re elected? ›

''. IV. Section-by-Section Analysis Section 1 This is the operative section that limits congressional terms to two terms in the Senate and to six terms in the House of Representatives.

How long can a senator serve? ›

The Senate has a membership of 40 Senators elected for 4-year terms, 20 to begin every 2 years. During his or her lifetime a person may serve no more than 12 years in the Senate, Assembly, or both, in any combination of terms.


1. Barry Evenchick interview 10.31.2007 (Center on the American Governor)
(Eagleton Institute of Politics)
2. Anthony Cicatiello interview 2.23.2009 (Center on the American Governor)
(Eagleton Institute of Politics)
3. Kenneth Merin interview 2.23.2009 (Center on the American Govenor)
(Eagleton Institute of Politics)
4. Barry Evenchick interview 11.29.2006 (Center on the American Governor)
(Eagleton Institute of Politics)
5. Gov. Jon S. Corzine Archive Colloquium (Center on the American Governor)
(Eagleton Institute of Politics)
6. Alan Sagner interview 5.16.2006 (Center on the American Governor)
(Eagleton Institute of Politics)


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