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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Oppo, Governors, and Executive Clemency

As we note in our chapter on federalism, every race for the White House between 1976 and 2008 included at least one presidential or vice presidential candidate who had served as governor. Maggie Haberman writes in Politico that one aspect of gubernatorial service is a potential target:

It’s still early in the presidential race, so the opposition research dumps haven’t really begun. But when the skeletons in the closets of 2012 GOP hopefuls begin to be revealed, the unique shape of the field — which will almost certainly feature a handful of current or former governors — makes it a good bet that someone is going to have a Willie Horton problem.

That’s code for a violent or deranged felon run amok on their watch — a reference to the notorious convict who went AWOL during a furlough from a Massachusetts prison, committed more crimes and ultimately became the subject of a devastating ad that helped seal the fortunes of 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis.

With former Govs. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and Mitch Daniels in the 2012 mix — and a few other current and former chief executives perhaps in the wings — the issue of pardons and furloughs is one that could play an unexpected and damaging role for some campaigns.

Haberman concludes:

“Everything you did can, and will, be used against you,” warned said James Pinkerton, an analyst and commentator who has deep ties in GOP politics, and who was involved in the research that led to the Horton ad in 1988. “Even if statistically the problem seems manageable, anecdotally it will be fatal. And therefore you have to have your ducks in a row.