The road to the 2024 presidential election is paved with uncertainty, a fact that became especially clear this past week. While most political observers are focused on the Republican party’s likely contenders, President Joe Biden threw a monkey wrench of his own making into the path to re-election this week.
Biden finally had the wind at his back with the party unifying behind him until Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed special counsel to investigate the discovery of sensitive, classified documents found in Biden’s private office and in a room adjacent to his Wilmington, Delaware garage.
Time will tell what, if any, long-term impact this investigation will have. The plain fact is this: it is a reversal of fortunes which, one way or the other, could have implications for the 2024 election.
Should he run, Democrats can expect Republicans to hammer Biden as vigorously as Democrats have thrashed Trump for his mishandling of documents. The nuances and factual differences won’t matter in the heat of a political campaign.
Americans ready to look beyond Biden and Trump, should look to the deep bench of governors. This group of CEO’s have a better shot at being president than Senators and others, and they know how to roll up their sleeves and solve problems.
Here’s my list of the most intriguing candidates for each party.
At the top of the Republican list is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He’s Trump’s biggest nightmare, and he may be Biden’s too. A recent Wall Street Journal poll showed DeSantis leading Trump 52% to 38%.
Democrats should be equally concerned. Polls show DeSantis beating Biden even though Biden tops Trump. The post-election buzz in Florida is about the so-called DeSantis Democrats.
DeSantis recently beat Charlie Crist by 20 points, the largest margin in 40 years, after raking in $200 million in contributions. He won several Democrat-leaning areas, including Miami-Dade County, which no Republican governor had won since 2002. Future DeSantis Democrats, like the Reagan Democrats in 1980, could derail Biden’s campaign.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, beat former governor Terry McAuliffe in 2021 to become the first Republican in more than a decade to win. Youngkin’s win, in a state that Biden won by 10 points a year earlier, made him a hot political commodity, and he used this status to smartly campaign in other states for gubernatorial candidates.
In one of the top 2024 battleground states, Georgia’s Brian Kemp proved you can defy Trump and still win after thumping his handpicked candidate, former Georgia Sen. David Perdue, in the primary. Kemp then beat Stacey Abrams, one of the most popular and well-funded candidates in the country, in their rematch. Kemp’s identity as a popular politician who is focused on solving real issues would make him an attractive general election candidate.
No one has ever accused Trump of being loyal, and neither are his disciples. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former Vice President Mike Pence, both former governors, are two well-known, respected conservative voices with their own set of followers.
On the Democratic side, let’s start at home. Gov. Jared Polis’ 20-point victory, like DeSantis, was impressive. A seasoned public and private sector CEO, Polis received national praise for his handling of the pandemic. Polis gets credit for being a rare progressive with a strong libertarian streak who has delivered on every major campaign promise he’s ever made: funding universal preschool for all four-year-olds, meeting renewable energy goals, creating a reinsurance program health care and even cutting taxes.
Polis may have a shot for president even though he told The Post a year ago: “Absolutely no way, no how.” But he is neither flashy nor the quintessential politician who tries to grab national headlines for political gains. Rather he is a serious elected official who helped carry the Democratic Party to the biggest wins the party has ever experienced. Polis can be nerdy at times (i.e., his Yoda impersonation in his State of the State), which in this day and age, many people find refreshing.
Polis, who has never lost an election, also understands Washington D.C., where he served five terms in Congress. He has received significant national attention from political commentators on both sides of the aisle. Back in September, George Will wrote a column on why Polis could answer Democrats’ prayers, and last month a Washington Post political reporter ranked him the 4th top potential Democratic candidate behind Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Should they decide to run, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and California Gov. Gavin Newsom would be strong political candidates with a national base and proven success at raising the necessary war chest to be competitive.
Whitmer, one of the Republican’s top Democratic governor targets in 2022, won her re-election by 11 points in a race that was once projected by Cook Report as a “toss up.” Whitmer is a powerhouse who helped Michigan turn blue as Democrats now control all three branches of government. Whitmer has effectively responded to Trump’s attacks and political “theology” in Michigan, a top-tier battleground state in 2024.
Newsom has been one of the most prominent national voices on abortion. And, as his recent inaugural address shows, he is strong on messaging and talking about his success in California. Newsom, in many ways, reminds me of Bill Clinton, and he shouldn’t be underestimated. Before you pass judgment, watch one of his entire speeches.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has won twice in a Republican-leaning swing state where he has masterfully governed over a hostile legislature and fostered strong economic growth. Cooper is well-liked and respected, as demonstrated by recently being elected by his peers to serve as the Chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
Finally, Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker and New Jersey’s Phil Murphy are both popular governors with solid Democratic credentials, proven track records, and the necessary financial resources and interest in running.
The fact that both parties are developing such a deep bench shouldn’t be surprising. Unlike the Senate, there are term limits for most governors, making for more competitive races and relatively significant turnover as compared with our U.S. Senators who serve 6-year terms without term limits.
With less enthusiasm for Biden and Trump and questions about whether they can deliver, this group of governors offers some fresh and interesting alternatives.
Doug Friednash grew up in Denver and is a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck. He is the former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.