By now, governors like Andrew Cuomo and Mike DeWine have become household names for many Americans thanks to their decisive leadership during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – and the attention their performance has drawn from both state and national media.
But as the virus spreads and expands, a handful of other governors are likely to emerge – for good or bad – in the next few weeks as they face the challenges presented by decisions over maintaining the balance between public health and economic concerns.
Here’s a look at five to keep an eye on (in no particular order):
1. Phil Murphy (D-New Jersey): Everyone knows New York is the state with the most coronavirus cases. But did you know New Jersey is second, with more than 4,400? On Tuesday alone, 17 New Jersey residents died from the virus, bringing the state’s total to 44. Murphy, appearing on “Cuomo Prime Time” Tuesday night, warned residents that strict social distancing policies would likely be in place for a while. “The pain may be high in terms of our lifestyle and on our economy, I can’t relent,” he told Chris Cuomo. “We’re going to have to stay the course no matter what.”
2. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida): DeSantis, a former House member elected to the state’s top job in 2018, has, so far, received poor reviews for his relatively hands-off approach to handling the virus – including delegating decision-making powers to local officials. DeSantis continues to face calls from Democratic lawmakers in his state to issue a “shelter in place” order, although he has resisted that to date. As of Wednesday morning, Florida had more than 1,600 coronavirus cases and 21 deaths.
3. John Bel Edwards (D-Louisiana): If you are looking for the next hotspot in terms of rapid coronavirus spread, expect it to happen in the Bayou State. Cases are spiking and 46 people have died. (More people have died of coronavirus in Louisiana than California.) “I’m fighting to save our people and I need every person in Louisiana to fight with me,” Bel Edwards told residents in a statewide TV address Monday night. “We have to slow the spread so we don’t overwhelm our capacity for health care.”
4. Andy Beshear (D-Kentucky): Beshear, who has been governor for less than a year, has been on the leading edge of social distancing practices – moving to close schools and limit public gatherings long before some of his fellow southern governors. A chart comparing Beshear’s quick response to the far slower response of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee became a viral sensation earlier this month; Tennessee currently has 667 coronavirus cases as compared to Kentucky’s 163.
5. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Michigan): Whitmer is one to watch for a lot of reasons, one of which is that she’s likely to be on former Vice President Joe Biden’s vice presidential shortlist. And how she manages the coronavirus crisis in her own state – where almost 2,300 people have been sickened and 43 have died – may well play a role in whether she gets selected.
The Point: Moments of crisis reveal character – in us and our leaders. These five governors will be tested in the weeks to come. How they perform will have high stakes for the people of their states – and likely shape the rest of their political careers.