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Politics & Government

Governors Meeting Allows 2016 Hopefuls To Grab The Spotlight

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

State governors will be in Washington this weekend for their annual winter meeting, and there's a little extra buzz this year. That's because as many as five current governors and a few former governors are eyeing a run for the White House. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Being governor and having presidential ambitions have long gone hand-in-hand. Governors have executive experience. They balance budgets. They need to work with legislatures. Their states are touted as America's great laboratories for ideas, places to show creativity and toughness - all things that fit nicely in a campaign ad in Iowa or New Hampshire. Back in February of 2001, here's how President George W. Bush spoke to his former fellow governors gathered in Washington. He was newly sworn in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: When the history of this administration is written, it will be said the nation's governors had a faithful friend in the White House. I've sat where you're sitting, and I know what it's like to have a good idea and then to wait on the federal government to tell you whether or not you can try it.

GONYEA: As Bush made clear that day, governors see themselves as outsiders who can fix things in Washington. So every presidential campaign season, maybe two or three or four might be in the mix. But Ray Scheppach, a former executive director of the National Governors Association, says the crop of governors eyeing a run this year is especially large. First, the GOP contest is wide open, and, he says, there are so many Republican governors in office - 31 in all.

RAY SCHEPPACH: Given you've got so many and a number are in their second term, once they've been sort of been successful, they do start looking at the presidential.

GONYEA: Here's the tally, subject to change, of governors pondering a White House bid for 2016. There's Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Then there's Indiana's Mike Pence and Ohio's John Kasich. That's five, but we're not done. Add in former governors Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee. Those are the Republicans. And while the Democratic contest has Hillary Clinton as the overwhelming frontrunner, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is making both noise and trips to Iowa, which brings us to this weekend's meeting of the National Governors Association. Ray Scheppach says you won't likely see any highly visible action by would-be candidates, but they'll likely still be working it while in D.C.

SCHEPPACH: There's more times that they're sort of pulled out of meetings, meeting with some of their political consultants, meeting with potential fundraisers and that type of thing. So the meeting often has a slightly different feel to it.

GONYEA: And there's this fact, which certainly feeds ambitions. Four of the past six U.S. presidents were governors - Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It was Clinton who summed up what making the transition felt like when he spoke to a gathering of governors from both parties on the eve of his inaugural in January of 1993.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: You know, for as long as I can remember, all of us have been telling other people how to be president.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Now we're going to find out if we were right.

GONYEA: Clinton quoted then-Texas Governor Ann Richards who said he looked like the dog that chased the pickup truck and caught it. The crop of current and former governors on the list for 2016 would like the chance to give their own version of that speech someday. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.