By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Endorsing governors must balance state, campaign responsibilities
Placeholder Image
    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of John McCain for president is a boon for McCain — as long as the state’s budget crisis is resolved peacefully.
    Should a partisan battle break out over the state’s $14.5 billion budget deficit, Schwarzenegger could become a liability for McCain.
    While the presidential campaign whirls around them, governors who have made endorsements face tough decisions at home that could hurt residents, and that could diminish the value of those endorsements if voters take out their anger in November.
    Governors’ loyalty to two masters may be tested as never before during the presidential campaign, especially in a year in which nearly half the states are predicting budget shortfalls.
    New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat who endorsed Hillary Clinton early in her campaign, faces criticism over a proposal to increase tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and other state expressways.
    Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who also endorsed Clinton, is laying off hundreds of state employees to balance the budget.
    Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Barack Obama supporter, has his own budget deficit to deal with, plus ties to an indicted businessman.
    Republican Mitt Romney won an endorsement from Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, who then dropped out of his own re-election campaign. Blunt said that decision isn’t an obstacle to completing his responsibilities as governor or as Romney supporter.
    ‘‘I’m convinced that Gov. Romney’s the best person to be our nominee, more importantly, the best person to be our candidate,’’ Blunt said. ‘‘So I work to make time to support his candidacy and I’ll continue to do so.’’
    Obama hit a political jackpot when he won the backing Tuesday of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a party star who’d been courted by all the major Democrats. She made her announcement the day after she gave the Democrats’ response to President Bush’s State of the Union speech.
    But Sebelius has a tricky balancing act as a moderate Democrat who has succeeded in a Republican state.
    Too much time spent campaigning could hurt her efforts to push her policy initiatives, said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist. For example, Sebelius is at odds with GOP lawmakers over the placement of two new coal-fired power plants in the state.
    ‘‘If she’s on the road four days for Barack Obama, there’d be some serious consequences of people saying ’We need you working on this giant environmental issue that’s hit Kansas,’’’ Beatty said.
    McCain hit a similar jackpot with Thursday’s endorsement from Schwarzenegger, which boosted the candidate’s efforts to win California’s Super Tuesday primary. A win is worth 170 delegates to the Republican nominating convention.
    Schwarzenegger, however, faces a tough political fight over the state’s budget.
    ‘‘If he can come out of the budget with some sort of bipartisan agreement, his popularity will stay high and he can go out and campaign for McCain,’’ said Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley.
    Conversely, a bitter fight could render Schwarzenegger ‘‘radioactive.’’ ‘‘We’ll know a lot more about whether he’s valuable in July,’’ Cain said.
    Schwarzenegger’s first responsibility is running the state but he also believes McCain should be the next president, said Julie Soderlund, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman.
    In Illinois, Blagojevich was one of Obama’s earliest supporters, endorsing his home-state senator a year ago. Now, Blagojevich is wrestling with a projected budget gap of $3 billion in the fiscal year beginning in July.
    He’s also fending off accusations emerging from the indictment of Antoin ‘‘Tony’’ Rezko, charged with scheming to pressure companies seeking state business for kickbacks and campaign contributions. Rezko has contributed thousands of dollars to the campaigns of both Obama and Blagojevich, neither of whom is accused of any wrongdoing.
    Neither the budget deficit nor the Rezko indictment will distract Blagojevich from helping Obama, said Doug Scofield, a Blagojevich spokesman.
    ‘‘He supported him early, he’ll continue to support him,’’ Scofield said. ‘‘He’s obligated and his first priority is to run the state, but he’s a strong supporter of the senator and wants to be as helpful as he can.’’
    A poll in New Jersey last month found 95 percent of voters had heard about Corzine’s plan to increase tolls, with 59 percent opposed, including a majority of Democrats.
    ‘‘I don’t think that makes him somebody you want to stand next to say ’I’m proud to have his endorsement,’’’ said Tom Wilson, chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee.
    Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said the governor did not take his decision to propose the plan lightly.
    ‘‘America typically looks for the same characteristics in their national leaders — people that are willing to make the hard decisions,’’ Gardner said. ‘‘Gov. Corzine’s selection of endorsements will certainly reflect similar philosophies on how best to govern.’’
    Twenty-seven of the nation’s governors have endorsed a presidential candidate leading up to the Super Tuesday primary.
    Among Republicans, McCain has eight endorsements from GOP governors to three for Romney.
    Among Democrats, Clinton leads with 10 endorsements, including last week’s nod from Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania. She also has support from Ohio’s Strickland, a key endorsement since the state sealed President Bush’s victory in 2004.
    Strickland said he works long hours to fulfill his duties as governor, but he also has a responsibility to help elect a candidate he believes will help the state he leads.
    ‘‘Ohio will be affected directly by whoever the next president is, and I want the next president to be someone that I think will understand the problems facing the state and our citizens,’’ Strickland said.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter