Running for president has its benefits for elected officials, the most obvious advantage being an increase in name recognition. But along with the perks are pitfalls which should cause sitting senators, congressmen and governors to think twice before going for presidential gold.
Consider the case of Texas Governor Rick Perry. After winning an unprecedented third term as chief executive of the Lone Star state, Perry was convinced by friends and family that he had a good shot at the GOP presidential nomination. But after his bid came up short, a statewide poll taken early in the year revealed that Perry’s popularity had suffered severely:
“He clearly hurt himself with this run,” pollster Mickey Blum said. “He didn’t do himself any favors at home.”
The phone survey of 806 Texans, conducted from Saturday to Tuesday, found only 40 percent approved of Perry’s performance as governor — down 10 points from last year, and Perry’s lowest approval rating in 10 years of polling.
The drop left Perry with a lower approval rating than President Barack Obama’s 43 percent — in a state Obama lost by 11 percentage points in 2008 — though Perry did have a slim lead among registered voters, with 42 percent to Obama’s 41.
Perry’s failed presidential bid was at the heart of the decline, with 37 percent of Texas adults viewing the governor less favorably because of the campaign and 53 percent saying he should not seek another term, Blum said.
“There’s a real sense of lost confidence,” Blum said. “He is clearly weakened. The number of Texans who say they do not want him to run for re-election is pretty strong.
But Perry’s decline in popularity among Texans has its roots in deeper soil than simply his missteps along the campaign trail. While campaigning for that third term as governor, Perry declared in December, 2010:
“I don’t want to be president of the United States. I’m not going to run for the presidency of the United States,” Perry told Reuters in an interview in the Texas state capital.
The governor was just as emphatic that he would not run for the White House nine months later when he sat down with Newsweek for another interview:
“Not going to run for president. Not going to be a vice-presidential candidate. Not going to be in anybody’s cabinet. And I suspect I’m not going to be anybody’s ambassador either.”
Rick Perry is not the only victim of broken promises to eschew a campaign for the presidency. After making her own White House run in the GOP primaries, Michele Bachmann now finds herself in a real race with Democrat Jim Graves in Minnesota to retain her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives:
A new poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosen Research shows Bachmann leading Democrat Graves by a very slim margin, 48 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.
And after respondents were read brief biographies of the two candidates, Graves received 51 percent of their votes to Bachmann’s 44 percent.
Equally troubling for the incumbent, just 14 percent of those surveyed rated her job performance as “excellent,” and 34 percent rated it as “poor.” Another 22 percent said “fair,” and 26 percent said “good.”
Bachmann raised a record $13.5 million for her last re-election campaign.
But conservatives and tea partyers are less inclined to fork over money to Bachmann this time around, citing the fact she raised millions in 2010 promising to remain in Congress as a thorn against Obama and the GOP establishment.
After winning re-election, she soon launched a presidential bid and diverted millions from her congressional coffers. Her bid, which many conservatives saw as an ego trip, failed disastrously.
A major problem for Bachmann is that during her unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination, she was mostly AWOL from her job as a congresswoman representing Minnesota:
Since declaring her candidacy June 13, Bachmann has missed 71 percent of key votes in the House, according to a database compiled by Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan organization that compiles information on candidates and government officials. At times she went months between votes.
The lessons for sitting elected officials seem clear and simple: Don’t run for president if you promised voters that you wouldn’t. Don’t run for president if a campaign for the White House prevents you from doing the job you have. In short, if you hold elective office and run for president, don’t lose.