WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic governors are bullish on President Barack Obama's re-election prospects, citing the improving economy and a Republican nominating contest that has exposed deep divisions in the party's base.
Republican governors insist Obama is vulnerable, but they say
they are concerned the prolonged primary race has alienated
independent voters and may have badly damaged the eventual nominee.
Democratic enthusiasm and Republican apprehension were both on display at the winter meeting of the National Governor's
Association, an annual four-day conference where states' top
executives gather to discuss policy and trade ideas on best
practices but where politics are always close to the surface.
In interviews, many Democratic governors seemed almost giddy
about Obama's chances of winning a second term.
They pointed to the improving employment figures, which have
helped raise state revenues after years of painful budget cuts. The
national unemployment rate stood at 8.3 percent in January, down
from a high of 10 percent in October 2009.
"These Republicans that are running for president, they're so
depressing. Cheer up!" Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said after
Democratic governors left a White House meeting with Obama.
"We've got some good news: a great president creating jobs, and governors who are seeing revenues rebound."
Even Democratic governors of some typically toss-up -- or
"purple" -- states, said they like Obama's chances.
"In a purple state people want to see results and they also
want to see a level of collaboration and teamwork. I think he is
going to win Colorado," the state's governor, John Hickenlooper,
Meanwhile, virtually no Republican governors were willing to
predict their party's nominee would prevail in November.
Many lamented the drawn-out nature of the nominating process, in
which the early front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt
Romney, has been weakened by the intense scrutiny of his wealth,
business practices and shifts on issues as well as the
unwillingness of conservative voters to rally behind his candidacy.
Many conservatives have coalesced recently around former
Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney's latest strongest rival as
the contest moves to primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday
and 10 contests on March 6.
"I don't know anybody who thinks if you started out to design a
good process to pick a president you'd choose exactly what we have
now," said Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, a former White
House budget director who explored a presidential candidacy but
ultimately decided against a run.
Daniels said he would not consider jumping into the race even if
Romney were to lose Michigan. Some Republican leaders have said
privately that if Romney does not prevail in Michigan -- a state
where he was born and grew up and where his father served as
governor -- the defeat could serve as an opening for a party
heavyweight like Daniels to join the field.
Daniels, who has not endorsed a candidate, said he didn't
believe a potential Romney loss in Michigan indicated unremitting
problems with his candidacy.
"The problem I would worry about, and have all along, is that
our side might not offer a bold enough and specific enough and
constructive enough and, I would say, inclusive enough alternative
to America," Daniels said.
Maine Republican governor Paul LePage suggested the drawn-out
negativity of the contest could mean Republicans should reach for a
new candidate strong enough to defeat the president.
"If they continue to beat each other up, then maybe we should
get somebody unknown to go against Obama. They're damaging
themselves," Le Page said. "It's like a marital battle.
Somebody's got to apologize."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has endorsed Romney, refused to
predict Romney would win Tennessee when voters go to the polls
there on Super Tuesday. But he said he felt confident Romney was
the strongest candidate to challenge Obama in the general election,
in part because he could win unaffiliated voters.
"I think we'll be in for a long election night regardless. I
think the race will be close," Haslam said. "That's why it's
important for Republicans to do a great job expressing our case and
reaching out to independents."
Some Republican governors voiced concern that social issues like
contraception and gay marriage had at times eclipsed discussion of
the economy in the primary race.
"I do agree those social issues are not as significant as some
of the economic and fiscal issues that really threaten our way of
life," South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said, saying he was
worried the debate over such issues might alienate uncommitted
Contraception emerged as a hot button issue last month after the
Obama administration announced it would require church-affiliated
employers to include birth control as part of an employee's health
insurance coverage. The decision drew outrage from Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, and Obama eventually retooled the requirement to say health insurers, not the religious groups
themselves, must pay for the coverage.
Many Republicans, including the leading presidential candidates,
slammed Obama for what they called government infringement on
religious liberty. But their hard line risked making the candidates
look as though they were anti-birth control -- particularly
Santorum, a devout Roman Catholic who has said he believes
contraception is harmful to women.
The problem was further compounded when Virginia Gov. Bob
McDonnell, a rising Republican star widely considered a contender
for the vice presidential nomination, backed a controversial bill
that would have required women undergo a vaginal ultrasound before
receiving an abortion.
McDonnell backed down this week, asking the bill's sponsors to
require a less invasive ultrasound procedure instead. But the
controversy drew national attention and scorn from women's groups.
Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett said he wasn't
concerned that social issues had become part of the presidential
campaign, saying such topics are top concerns for many Republican
voters. But Corbett, who hasn't endorsed a primary candidate, said
the discussion would shift once a nominee is chosen.
"It will be the economy, the economy, the economy and it will
be jobs, jobs, jobs. And I think that's exactly where it should
be," Corbett said.
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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)