In the immediate future, it's unclear how much Obama can help his party's gubernatorial candidates. Some, like Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, have embraced the president, saying the partnership helps their states.
But Florida Democratic nominee Alex Sink has generally avoided Obama during presidential visits. In a TV ad, she said Republican nominee Rick Scott "seems to think running for governor is all about President Obama," whereas she is focused on Florida schools, jobs and tax relief.
Without question, governors can help their party's president or presidential nominee.
They can tout the administration's policies on issues such as stimulus spending, which might include well-publicized public works projects that create jobs. Conversely, a governor can criticize and fight a president's initiatives, undermining his success.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie recently canceled construction of a $9 billion rail tunnel connecting his state and New York City, a priority for Obama. Under White House pressure, Christie has since agreed to rethink the decision.
As leaders of their state political parties, governors also can steer resources to a presidential campaign that the out-of-power party may have trouble matching. In pivotal states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example, Obama benefited from hands-on help in 2008 from governors Strickland and Ed Rendell — even though both men originally supported Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Now Obama faces the prospects of running in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, Iowa, Maine and other states where new governors and their political apparatus will seek to defeat him.
"The stakes for the White House in the governors' races couldn't be higher," said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist who has worked with presidential and gubernatorial campaigns.
The White House's Pfeiffer said "winning the governorship of a state is always helpful for the presidential election," but he noted that Obama carried several states with GOP governors in 2008.
And what of the tea party two years from now? Pfeiffer said those libertarian-leaning candidates may help Republicans win races this year but might prove too extremist for "the broader electorate that turns out in presidential election years."
"People rarely ride tigers," he said, "without getting bit."
- Read more about the 2012 Presidential Election.
- See an Opinion slide show of 7 ways Obama can become “one of us.”
- Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.