When San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom was running for the Democratic nomination for governor of California in 2009, he derided the lieutenant governor's office as a "largely ceremonial post." But a year later, after the race for governor proved too competitive and costly, he abruptly changed his attitude and threw his hat in the ring. Newsom's somewhat improbable explanation was this: He hadn't previously appreciated the importance of the lieutenant governor's side duties, such as heading the California economic development commission and serving as a University of California regent [source: Rothfeld].
Politicians often swallow their pride and seek the lieutenant governor position because of one simple fact: It gives them name recognition that will help them if they eventually run for governor. A study by the National Lieutenant Governors Association found that between 1980 and 2006, 56 lieutenant governors went on to become the governors of their states, compared to 53 state senators, 28 U.S. Congress members, 24 attorney generals and 19 mayors. The lieutenant governors were outnumbered only by the 96 state house members who ascended to the top post. Because there are a multitude of legislators but only one lieutenant governor for each state, it works out that the second-in-command has about a one in four chance of eventually getting the top guy's job. Meanwhile, a state assembly member or representative has only a one in 100 shot [source: NLGA].
That said, lieutenant governors only seem to advance so far. While many lieutenant governors have gone on to become governors, only one -- onetime Connecticut lieutenant governor Calvin Coolidge -- managed to go all the way to becoming U.S. President [source: Hurst].