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Lieutenant governors struggling to climb the food chain

By Aaron Blake

If you think it's tough being a governor these days, trying being his or her No. 2.

The often undesirable position of lieutenant governor is generally used by aspiring politicians as a springboard to bigger and more desirable statewide and federal office.

This year, though, it's not delivering.

When a state government is struggling to balance a budget, it's apparently not just the first-in-command who pays a price. And so lieutenant governors across the country are struggling in their efforts to work their way into more prominent jobs.

Already, Kentucky Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo (D) and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) have lost close Senate primaries, while South Carolina's Andre Bauer (R) lost a primary for governor. Michigan's John Cherry (D) and Nevada's Brian Krolicki (R) have been forced out of primaries for governor and Senate, respectively, while others, including Connecticut governor candidate Michael Fedele (R) and Tennessee governor candidate Ron Ramsey (R), are distinct underdogs in upcoming primaries.

The University of Virginia's Center for Politics calculated last year that nearly a quarter of lieutenant governors in the past 25 years have gone on to become governor. This year, voters seem more content to look elsewhere when electing their chief executives.

About the only primary success stories to come out of the ranks of lieutenant governors so far are South Dakota's Dennis Daugaard (R) and Oklahoma's Jari Askins (D), both of whom have won primaries to succeed their bosses.

Even New Mexico's Diane Denish (D) and Ohio's Lee Fisher (D), who entered this cycle with high hopes, have seen their fortunes wane in recent months.

Fisher survived a surprisingly close Senate primary with under-funded Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, but it left him in rough financial shape for a general election matchup with former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Fisher's campaign has also undergone a series of staffing changes, which are never a good sign.

Denish, meanwhile, has struggled under the weight of increasingly unpopular outgoing Gov. Bill Richardson (D). She began her own gubernatorial campaign as a distinct favorite, but Doña Ana County prosecutor Susana Martinez has surged since her primary win.

Much like Denish, Cherry was forced from Michigan's governor's race largely because he couldn't get past his ties to outgoing Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), who has struggled mightily with one of the toughest economies in the country.

Bauer did everything he could to separate himself from the foibles of outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford (R), whose admitted affair with a woman in Argentina shook up that state's race for governor.

Other lieutenant governors having a rough go of it include:

-Hawaii's Duke Aiona (R): trails by double digits in most polls against either Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) or former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (D) in the state's governor's race.

-Alaska's Craig Campbell (R): was appointed to his job after Sarah Palin resigned as governor, but then dropped out of a competitive primary for a full term.

-Florida's Jeff Kottkamp (R): running in a neck-and-neck race for state Attorney General and is doing his best to separate himself from Gov. Charlie Crist (I) after Crist's party switch.

Only Daugaard and Vermont governor candidate Brian Dubie (R) look like favorites at this point, and that adjective is pretty tenuous for Dubie. Fisher and Denish are in toss-up races, and Askins finds herself an underdog against Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.).

By Aaron Blake  |  August 3, 2010; 5:05 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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