The 2024 presidential election is still more than two years away, but it’s not a sure thing that we’ll see a rematch of Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. Biden leads a Democratic Party disappointed in his failure to deliver a forceful response to the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning abortion rights, and Trump is vulnerable to Republican conservatives who love his “America first” agenda but would like to move on without all of the former president’s scandalous baggage.
Who might step forward to replace them on the ballots? Governors, of course. For a long stretch of the late 20th century, experience as the chief executive of a state was the surest path to the White House: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all served as governors. Can the nation’s statehouses provide a platform for America’s next president? Here are four possibilities.
The Fox News favorite: Ron DeSantis
The Florida Republican is clearly positioning himself to lead the GOP if Trump decides not to run, and maybe even if he does. “DeSantis is building a campaign to take on Trump. And he can win,” Jonathan Chait writes at New York, pointing to a recent New Hampshire poll that has DeSantis winning a primary battle in that state by a narrow two-point margin. The most striking aspect of that poll is that DeSantis leads Trump by double-digit large margins among Fox News viewers and voters who listen to conservative talk radio. That’s because the conservative media establishment — not just Fox, but outlets like National Review and American Greatness — have pushed DeSantis to the front of the pack by featuring him prominently in their coverage. Chait’s conclusion: “Republicans who consume conservative media are getting the message.”
DeSantis has positioned himself at the head of the pack by making Florida a laboratory for right-wing governance: He’s signed laws forbidding school districts from requiring masks to prevent the spread of COVID, banning discussion of sexuality in classrooms and stripping Disney of its tax advantages for opposing the classroom law. “DeSantis has remade the political landscape in Florida,” Dexter Filkins wrote in a recent New Yorker profile. “It seems conceivable that he could attempt something similar on a national level.”
The angry Democrat: Gavin Newsom
California’s governor easily survived a recall election last year and, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, has offered himself as the man to lead the Democratic Party into battle. “Newsom is now planning to do what he demanded of fellow Democrats: directly engage with Republicans in those culture wars,” Christopher Cadelago and David Siders write for Politico. While his prominence in the latest hot-button debates has prompted presidential speculation, observers say he wouldn’t challenge Biden in a primary, and would be hesitant to take on Vice President Kamala Harris — a California ally — if she decided to run. But that comes with a caveat: “If her candidacy appeared weak, it would not be unthinkable” for Newsom to run.
Despite his protestations, Newsom just ran an ad on Fox News criticizing DeSantis. That’s not the kind of thing a person who isn’t running for president does. But there are questions about what kind of appeal a deep-blue Californian would have in red and purple states. “All three of the country’s Californian presidents — Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — were Republicans,” Blake Hounshell points out in The New York Times. “No Democrat from California has ever been elected to the Oval Office.”
The fresh face: Glenn Youngkin
Wait. Wasn’t Virginia’s Republican governor elected just last year? Yes, that’s true, but it’s also true that Virginia term-limits its governors to a single term — which means Youngkin is already thinking about his next job. Glenn Youngkin “is nowhere close to announcing his candidacy. He’s just in the megadonor meeting stage, trying to better read the room,” Dan Primack writes for Axios. “But his underdog victory in Virginia was emboldening, and there’s a pragmatic case for seeking higher office before establishing too much of a record in lower office (see Obama, Barack).”
Youngkin’s appeal might be his ability to reach beyond the GOP’s base. During his gubernatorial run, “Youngkin managed to excite the deep-red base without alienating moderate suburbanites,” Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider write for The Washington Post. His ability to appeal to Trump voters without resorting to Trumpist bombast might be a winner on the national level, too: “Republicans pointed to his win as a template for a way forward from the Trump presidency.” But he’ll soon find out if GOP donors decide to put their money behind that gamble.
The billionaire: J.B. Pritzker
The Democratic governor of Illinois has attracted attention for a couple of reasons. First, he made a trip to New Hampshire in June to give a speech to Dems in that state — just days before the gubernatorial primary election in his own state. Second, he made headlines around the same time for suggesting that Biden might face a primary challenge in 2024. “That’s not something I’m encouraging, but it’s certainly possible,” he told NBC News. “We’ve seen it in the past.” Democrats tout his policy accomplishments as governor, Tina Sfondeles reports for the Chicago Sun-Times, including “legalizing cannabis, raising the minimum wage, expanding voting rights, reforming criminal justice and enshrining reproductive rights.”
A third factor in the presidential speculation: Pritzker has deep pockets — Forbes estimates his net worth at $3.6 billion, money that comes from his former career running a private equity firm, as well as his status as an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune. He’s used that money freely in his gubernatorial campaigns. “Which means that if Pritzker wants to run against Biden in 2024,” Chris Cillizza writes for CNN, “he won’t lose for a lack of funds.”
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