Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Will a Governor Be the GOP’s Next Star?

I just posted this at FoxNews' "FoxForum" site:

Miami – Here at the Republican Governors Association annual meeting, there is no great sense of defeat, but rather a sense of positive anticipation—and for good reason.

Despite the general GOP wipeout of 2008, no incumbent Republican governor was defeated for re-election this year; in fact, two Republican incumbents, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Jim Douglas of Vermont, hung on, even as their states went for Obama. Indeed, the case of Vermont’s Douglas is particularly striking: he won a fourth term with nearly 55 percent of the vote, while Obama was winning the Green Mountain State by more than 2:1.

So while the Party’s presidential candidate, and its Congressional wing, were both soundly repudiated at the polls earlier this month, Republican governors did well. Republicans still have 21 governors—including a certifiably hot political property for the future, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who speaks here this afternoon.
And staffers at the Republican Governors Association (RGA) look forward to 36 governorships are up for grabs in 2010. With George W. Bush and his deep unpopularity gone from the White House, and Barack Obama the incumbent, the “off year” election of ‘10 is likely to go quite well for the Republicans. The RGA could well find itself back in the majority come 2011.

And in the shorter term, the RGA has gotten some big breaks: In a grotesque sign of arrogant hubris, Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, has announced that he wants to run for governor of Virginia in the “off off year” of 2009. McAuliffe’s ambition is a huge gift to Republicans: Take a Democratic wheeler-dealer, born in upstate New York, then transplant him to the Beltway, where he made millions as a K Street operative—and then turn him loose on the Old Dominion. Yes, Virginia is changing (Obama carried it) but it hasn’t changed so much that lobbyists can buy the Richmond state house. McAuliffe is exactly the sort of over-reach that Democrats don’t need. But it’s what they’ve got, as Democrats over-interpret the 2008 election.

And returning to the longer term, the defeat of Sen. John McCain only underscores the reality that statehouses are the best springboards to the presidency; the last time that a Republican Senator or Congressman went directly to the White House was 1920.

Ed Tobin, a former executive director of the RGA, now a lawyer in Boston, offers an explanation for gubernatorial effectiveness, “Governors are leaders—they have to be. Governors have to produce. They have to make decisions every day, on how balance budgets and manage programs—and be held accountable for what they do. By comparison, the Senate is a debating society, and the House is too often captured by pork barrelers and earmarkers.”

But there’s is a paradox here. Compared to the outgoing Republican in the White House, and the surviving group of Republicans on Congress, governors might be the most effective, but they get the least attention. Out in the states, from Alaska to Florida, governors do their thing—and receive little attention for what they do, beyond their own state.

Indeed, the political and policy discussion in Washington and New York is dominated by policy wonks and freelance ideologues, plus whatever Member of Congress has the time to speak at a think-tank seminar—or go on cable TV. That is, the “national” debate eclipses the state-by-state actions of governors, in both parties.

For their part, governors just plug along in their states, confident that their own constituents will be able to judge their performance.

But of course, whenever a party gets tired of losing nationwide, it is well advised to look out to the states, and the statehouses, for new talent.

As Tobin, the former RGA staffer, puts it, “Governors are closer to the people. They have their principles, but they are also pragmatic.”

That sounds pretty good right about now.

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