Twenty-three of the country's governors have endorsed a presidential candidate at a time when their support matters most, lending their names, fundraising and organizing machinery to campaigns desperate for an edge in the primaries.
Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton leads with nine endorsements, including nods from New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, the state that sealed President Bush's victory in 2004.
A governor's endorsement can be campaign gold since governors have a built-in bully pulpit they can use to promote a candidate and their own grass-roots organizing and fundraising networks to share.
Come the general election, it's natural for governors to support their party's nominee, and voters take it for granted. That makes governors' backing particularly important now, in the primary and caucus stage of the campaign.
"Voters in the primaries and caucuses are trying to make decisions among candidates that they generally prefer, so those choices tend to be harder," said Paul Beck, an Ohio State University political scientist. "There, a governor's endorsement can be useful."
The endorsement game started early. A year ago, seven governors already had announced their support for candidates, including Indiana's Mitch Daniels for John McCain, Missouri's Matt Blunt for Mitt Romney and Illinois' Rod Blagojevich for Barack Obama.
Despite the jockeying for endorsements, governors' backing has probably declined in importance over the years, said David Webber, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-Columbia. That's due in part to a weakening of state political organizations and in part to today's information overload, from blogs to 24-hour news channels.
"People are waiting for (broadcaster) Lou Dobbs to endorse someone," Webber said. "I'm not sure governors have as much clout as they did 25 or 40 years ago."
Obama has five endorsements, including the support of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the nation's only black governor and a one-time top official at the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.
On the GOP side, McCain has four endorsements to Romney's three. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, has support so far from only one governor, Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is the only governor to endorse former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Some prominent endorsements are missing from governors whose states are among the two dozen that hold primary or caucus contests on Feb. 5, when 1,678 of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination and 1,038 of the 1,191 delegates need to win the Republican nomination are at stake.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, the biggest prize on Feb. 5, has yet to back a candidate, though he's met personally with McCain, Giuliani and Romney and talked to Huckabee by phone.
He recently said he will endorse eventually, but for now is focusing on the state's influence in the primary.
"Now we have power, now they have to come our way," Schwarzenegger said recently. "California is a very powerful state, and for the first time in decades we can now be part of the decision-making process."
One of the most coveted endorsements will come from Kansas' Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a party star whose name surfaced four years ago as a possible running mate for John Kerry. She has been contacted multiple times by the top Democratic candidates.
Until recently, Sebelius was holding off until she appoints a new Kansas attorney general. Last week she was tapped to give the Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union address, further delaying her announcement.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, has also not backed anyone though he is not ruling out an announcement. Florida's primary is Jan. 29.
"Just because a governor says this is who I'm supporting, I don't know that that really means that people are going to follow that guidance," Crist said.
Republican governors held the majority of states in 2000 and 2004, helping propel Bush to the White House. Democrats held the majority when Bill Clinton won election in 1992.
Such party control doesn't always translate to presidential success. Clinton won re-election over Republican Bob Dole in 1996 when GOP governors held a 33-17 edge.
Democratic governors have a 28-22 advantage this year, having regained the majority last year after 12 years of GOP dominance.
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