Republican governors blame Washington in messaging for 2014

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Republicans governors seeking an advantage in 2014 elections are contrasting their records with what they call dysfunction in Washington, even as that disparages some in their own party as well as Democrats.

"If we do our jobs the way the people have told us to, that will not only have success with the voters of our state, but will be providing an extraordinarily effective contrast to what's going on in Washington," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said during a press conference Thursday at the Republican Governors Association's annual conference.

While Congress is gridlocked or passing measures they oppose, such as President Barack Obama's health-care law, Republican governors said they are getting practical results on jobs, education and other issues in their states. At the same time, Republicans in Congress are blamed for the 16-day partial government shutdown last month, exposing a rift between the anti-tax tea party and business wings of the party.

"Too often in D.C., we're defined as the party of 'no', too often we're defined by what we're against," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said during a press conference Wednesday. "We need to do a better job as a party defining what we're for, offering detailed, principled solutions to the issues the American people care about. The place you can find that is in our state capitals."

Christie, who won re-election by 22 percentage points earlier this month, and Jindal, who is becoming RGA vice- chairman, are among several Republican governors who are potential presidential candidates. Others include Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Yet attendees at the annual RGA conference are mostly refusing to talk about the 2016 race, saying they're focused on races in next year's elections. There are 30 Republican governors, and 22 of those incumbents are running for re- election during the 36 gubernatorial races next year, according to the RGA.

Christie and others said Republicans who focus on 2016 risk their re-elections and those of their colleagues.

"The most important election for Republicans is 2014," said Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor who also previously led the RGA and considered a run for president in 2012. "That'll have more to do with 2016 than all the campaigning by potential candidates."

Asked whether there's a political danger of running against fellow Republicans in Congress, Christie said voters want honesty.

"My view's always been that when a Republican deserves criticism, he or she gets it," Christie said. "When a Democrat deserves criticism, he or she gets it."

There are "no saints in Washington right now," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said.

"Republicans and Democrats have royally screwed this up," Haley said at Thursday's press conference. "For us to go and pander to Republicans just because they're Republicans goes against what governors do."

Republican governors elected in 2010 have been implementing agendas including restrictions on unions and abortion rights "that House Republicans could only dream of getting done," Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said in a statement.

"In doing so, they've fostered the same hostility, divisiveness, and partisan tone seen every day in Washington," Kanner said. "The people of their states aren't buying their fraudulent rhetoric."

Republican John Kasich, in his first term as Ohio's governor, said Wednesday that House Speaker John Boehner, also an Ohio Republican, is "trying his best" to lead his party. Factions within the party make it difficult, just as Democrats can be fractured, said Kasich, who was a House Budget Committee chairman in the 1990s.

"The town is not working," Kasich told reporters at Wednesday's conference, referring to Washington. "Do Republicans bear some responsibility for it? Of course they do. But it's the whole mess, it's the whole thing, it's the whole soup that's not working."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Republican governors are being seen as a legitimate pool for presidential candidates because expectations of results from Washington are so low.

"We've allowed things to go on in this political world that would be absolutely unacceptable if people behaved that way in your family, or if they behaved that way in a business," Snyder said in an interview. "Shouldn't we raise expectations?"

Christie has said he won't rush a presidential decision and is focusing on his job as governor and at the RGA getting Republicans elected and re-elected.

"That's the best thing he can do," Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, whose state traditionally hosts the first presidential nomination voting, said in an interview.

Kasich said Christie's celebrity will be an asset in raising money and attracting crowds during campaign stops for Republicans in 2014. The Ohio governor said Christie was a popular draw for him during events for his 2010 campaign.

"People just loved him," Kasich told reporters at the conference. "He said, 'If you don't elect this guy, I'm campaigning back here New Jersey style.' They liked it."

_ With assistance from John McCormick in Chicago.