Not all governors are created equal.
Some governors consistently enjoy high levels of statewide popularity and build national profiles that advance their careers. Others ride a roller coaster of opinion polls and stick close to home. Still others become plagued by scandal and criticism that make it hard to move agendas.
Unlike senators, whose popularity is usually tied to national partisan politics, most governors try to build more centrist images as bipartisan problem-solvers.
questsin selected these 10 current chief executives who are doing the best job of running their states by keeping their economies fundamentally sound, with low taxes and less regulation, while providing quality services and keeping crime down. We also looked at poll approval numbers as one indication that a governor is creating a governing majority.
1. Greg Abbott, R-Texas — According to recent polling done by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, Gov. Greg Abbott is enjoying immense popularity statewide. Abbott scored the highest favorability rating among Texas politicos and the widest margin between voters who “approve” and “disapprove.” The incumbent governor is campaigning for re-election this year and, along with an endorsement from President Donald Trump, Abbott received a “positive job approval rating” from 81 percent of Texas Republicans surveyed. He's also helped transform the state's economy by turning Texas into a hub for high-tech jobs. Under his leadership, tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Oracle, and Microsoft have all expanded in the Lone Star State, a move that has led the state to be No. 1 in the nation in tech exports and all exports, CNBC reported last summer.
2. Larry Hogan, R-Maryland — The last time a Republican served two terms as governor of Maryland was in the 1950s, so despite his popularity Hogan is no shoo-in for re-election next year. Still, he has built strong support in this blue state. Keys to his success include building bipartisan consensus in the state legislature, vowing to protect the polluted Chesapeake Bay, and pushing a moderate agenda focused on tax cuts and economic growth. He also has drawn support and sympathy by waging a public battle against cancer, first detected in June 2015 — the same year he was inaugurated.
3. Charlie Baker, R-Massachusetts — A wealthy businessman, Baker is an old-school Bay State Republican. The 61-year-old Massachusetts governor is a fiscal, small-government conservative with a social libertarian streak and a marked disdain for the harsher elements of both parties. He maintains soaring approval ratings in the traditionally blue state by standing up against both Beltway Republicans and Democratic bigwigs on Beacon Hill.
4. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado — A former Denver mayor, geologist, and brewpub owner, Hickenlooper is finishing his second term as Colorado governor with a string of successes under his belt. He’s also an early favorite for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. His state has undergone a rapid economic growth as he somehow managed to unite business with environmental activists. He has drawn a national spotlight by supporting the use of recreational marijuana in his state. While controversial, marijuana legalization has generated millions in tax revenue, which helped Colorado close budget gaps and create jobs.
5. John Bel Edwards, D-Louisiana — As they try to beat Trump in 2020, many Democrats are putting early money on Edwards, the only current Democratic governor in the Deep South. Indeed, no Democratic governor holds office in a state where Trump got a greater share of the vote (58 percent). Edwards currently enjoys approval ratings near 60 percent in Louisiana, all while pursuing a decidedly centrist agenda. While he supports gun rights and opposes abortion rights, he also has backed Medicaid expansion for the working poor, joined environmentalists to fight oil and gas companies over wetlands, and raised Louisiana’s minimum wage.
6. Brian Sandoval, R-Nevada — Winning a second term in 2014 by a 3-to-1 margin, Sandoval has consistently ranked as one of the country’s most popular governors. The first Latino governor in Nevada, he owes much of his popularity to his leadership bringing the economically devastated state back from the Great Recession. He became a thorn in the side of the GOP in its efforts to repeal Obamacare, but that criticism hasn’t hurt him in Nevada, where his approval ratings remain sky high.
7. Bill Haslam, R-Tennessee — A wealthy businessman and former Knoxville mayor, Haslam’s strong popularity in Tennessee stems largely from the state’s economic stability and his laser-like focus on a center-right agenda that avoids many hot-button ideological issues. His high approval ratings were the big reason Republican leaders urged him recently to join the race to succeed Sen. Bob Corker, should he retire. Haslam ultimately decided not to run for Senate, saying he wants to remain “completely focused” on his current job. Also worth noting: Haslam is one of the country’s wealthiest officeholders; Forbes estimated his wealth at $2 billion in 2015.
8. Matt Bevin, R-Kentucky — According to The Lane Report, Kentucky is experiencing a surge in jobs growth and “record-setting” corporate investment under the stewardship and pro-business policies of Bevin. Another prong of Bevin’s plan to better Kentuckians’ quality of life, the governor has set out to reform the state’s criminal justice programs to reverse the trend of rising prison populations, bolster workforce participation for the influx of jobs, and return incarcerated parents to their children, Fox News reported.
9. Roy Cooper, D-North Carolina — The DNC began eyeing Cooper when he was a popular attorney general for 16 years. Re-elected to a fourth term without opposition, the centrist Democrat made headlines in 2016 when he unseated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. While clashing with the Republican-dominated legislature, Cooper was named by President Trump to co-chair a national commission on opioid addiction with Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He has also fought legislation he feels would lead to the gaming industry gaining power in North Carolina.
10. Dennis Daugaard, R-South Dakota — The child of deaf parents who grew up on a South Dakota dairy farm, Daugaard (pronounced DEW-guard) maintains stratospheric approval ratings — and sailed to a second term — by focusing on job creation and hewing closely to a conservative agenda popular with South Dakota voters. He also embraces national GOP efforts on healthcare reform, immigration, and gun rights.