There was an interesting question on a politics discussion board recently that got me thinking: Can someone who has only held “minor” statewide office (Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, etc.) get elected directly as President without getting elected as Governor or to Congress, or getting appointed to the US Cabinet? So, this would not apply to a state treasurer appointed HUD Secretary.
It seems to me that it’s kind of like asking if anyone from the Dakotas or Nebraska will become President. It’s possible, but so few people do end up becoming President, that it is quite unlikely.
There are still a few potential scenarios.
1. A rising star explodes as a lower-level statewide officeholder, and gets elevated to the White House before becoming Governor or Senator. This could happen with increasing partisanship, if you have a state Attorney General who is instrumental in stopping Presidents. Prosecutors can often be involved in fights against national boogeymen. In 1940, Tom Dewey won more in the Republican primary than anyone else, as a Manhattan District Attorney who had sent a corrupt former New York Stock Exchange president, and some Tammany Hall politicians to jail.
2. Someone in lower office comes very close in a major statewide race and gains a lot of credibility. Imagine a one term Republican California Attorney General or Texas Attorney General who gets a lot of attention as a candidate for Senate/ Governor. In the 1940 presidential election, Dewey was helped by a close loss in the 1938 New York gubernatorial race. There’s a bit of chatter about Jason Kander in this way, as his narrow loss in a race for Senate in Missouri is seen as an indication of tremendous political strength, under the assumption a close loss in a conservative state is akin to a clear win in a swing state.
3. Someone in lower office goes on to major celebrity. There are plenty of politicians who become major media figures (Jerry Springer, Joe Scarborough) and Trump has demonstrated that celebrity can help in presidential races. A TV show can make a former comptroller as well known as any Governor, while the stint as comptroller would provide an appearance of experience.
It would be especially helpful if there’s a political environment in which one party took a major shellacking, so that there are less incumbent statewide officeholders for the former state treasurer to compete against.