Where the SEC Primary governors stand on the presidential race

This morning in Birmingham, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president. Said the second-term governor:

"John Kasich’s success in putting conservative ideas to work in Ohio—cutting taxes $5 billion, turning an $8 billion shortfall into a $2 billion surplus, and creating 350,000 new jobs—are all strengths he will have as President. Coupled with John Kasich's compassion for the people he serves and desire to make their lives better, our country will be stronger with him as President."

Kasich has mostly competed in New Hampshire since jumping into the race, but has seen his national numbers improve since the first debate. While he visited Georgia in May, Kasich has not ventured much into the March 1 "SEC Primary" territory -- certainly not the way Ted Cruz and others have. Today's news could presage a bigger push.

The endorsement also puts Bentley out in front of most of his fellow Republican governors from states voting the SEC Primary, who are waiting to see how things play out.

The only other SEC Primary governor to back a Republican candidate is Arkansas' Asa Hutchinson, who helped introduce former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee when he jumped into the race.

Georgia's Nathan Deal offered a strange quadruple endorsement of four fellow governors that notably did not include Kasich. Here's what his camp told us in June:

“The governor is grateful for and appreciative of the support he received from national leaders during his election and re-election bids. In 2010, Governor Huckabee campaigned for Governor Deal. In 2014, Governors [Chris] Christie, [Jeb] Bush and [Bobby] Jindal made several trips to Georgia in support of him,” said Chris Riley, Deal’s chief of staff. “Their efforts are not forgotten. The governor’s loyalty lies with those who worked tirelessly on his behalf, and he intends to do the same for them if asked.”

In Texas, Greg Abbott has two hometown favorites -- Cruz and his predecessor, Rick Perry -- in the race. Here's what the Texas Tribune reported in May:

Gov. Greg Abbott, once reluctant to get involved in his party's 2016 presidential primary, has a new message for White House hopefuls: Get in line.

With Texas poised to play a role in determining the GOP nominee for the first time in decades, the first-term governor is increasingly making clear he does not plan to let the newfound clout go to waste. He's laid out five criteria for the candidates and wants them to come see the border that has been central to his agenda so far.

Abbott has not decided whether he'll endorse before the Texas primary on March 1, a date that puts the state earlier than usual in the nominating process. That has not stopped him from leaning into a potential role few of his predecessors in recent history have had the chance to play: presidential kingmaker.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam's family has donated to Jeb Bush, but the governor has been quiet. From the Knoxville News Sentinel:

“We’ve known Gov. Bush for a long time and have tremendous respect for his abilities and believe he’d be a great president,” Jim Haslam said in a telephone interview, saying he could speak for himself and Jimmy but not for his second son, Gov. Bill Haslam.

The father, his two sons and other Haslam family members all united in 2008 and 2012 behind Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primary, although in 2012 Bill Haslam waited until January of that year to do so — months after the others. The state’s presidential preference primary was on March 6 then; it will be on March 1 in 2016, the same “Super Tuesday” cluster day as other Southeastern states including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

This year, the governor is apparently inclined against making a primary endorsement since he is the current chairman of the national Republican Governors Association, although he joined U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in heaping praise on Bush at a state GOP fundraiser in late May.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin had this to say when Oklahoma City hosted a cattle call in May, via Politico:

Fallin,the host, has remained neutral throughout the early stages of the primary. But she provided glowing introductory speeches for many of the candidates who made their way to the conference. At a news conference on Thursday, when asked if she would prefer the party nominate a candidate from the South, she couldn’t help but break into a smile.

“Well, of course,” she said. “That would be nice.”

Louisiana is slated to vote the following Saturday, March 5. Presumably Gov. Bobby Jindal has endorsed himself there.

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