Republican Governors Meet, Glumly

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who skipped the GOP governors' opening lunch, is set to give a news conference today.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who skipped the GOP governors' opening lunch, is set to give a news conference today. (By John Watson-riley -- Associated Press)
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 13, 2008

MIAMI, Nov. 12 -- Republican governors were the brightest spot in an otherwise dispiriting election last week for the GOP, but the chief executives gathered here Wednesday provided a gloomy assessment of their party's failures and a dark forecast for the future.

The Republican Party is ill situated to serve a changing America, they said. Members make excuses for corruption. The Bush administration and congressional leaders are fiscally irresponsible and have ceded the tax issue -- of all issues -- to the Democrats. Large swaths of the country are off limits to GOP candidates. Republicans have lost the technology advantage, and if they were part of a corporation, "heads would roll." It's going to be worse in 2010.

The Republican Governors Association, meeting at a sleek hotel on Biscayne Bay to survey the damage, itself is a thinned version of what it was in the heyday of GOP dominance of national politics. There will be 21 GOP governors come January, a loss of one, and only 16 of them made the trip.

They are convinced that their counterparts in Washington are incapable of finding a formula for resurgence and that the answer lies in the states.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- passed over by Sen. John McCain for the No. 2 spot on the presidential ticket and one of nine GOP governors who preside over states won by Barack Obama -- offered a summary of his party's predicament at the governors' opening lunch.

"We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes states, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the mid-Atlantic states, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western states," Pawlenty said. "That is not a formula for being a majority governing party in this nation."

As if that weren't enough, he ticked off a few more challenges.

"Similarly we cannot compete, and prevail, as a majority governing party if we have a significant deficit, as we do, with women, where we have a large deficit with Hispanics, where we have a large deficit with African American voters, where we have a large deficit with people of modest incomes and modest financial circumstances. Those are not factors that make up a formula for success going forward."

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, at 37 the youngest of the group, was more succinct: "They fired us with cause." He was referring to the loss of at least six senators and more than 20 House members, the first time since 1932 that the party has lost so many seats in consecutive elections.

A phrase heard repeatedly in the hallways was that the next Republican president -- and there are plenty who would like the job -- was in the room, or at least in the hotel. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate and the most well-known attendee, skipped the lunch to do a sit-down with CNN and was last seen surrounded three-deep by reporters and cameras before disappearing into an elevator.

She is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday morning and then give an analysis in a session titled "Looking Towards the Future."

It is likely to be a more upbeat affair than the seminar she missed, "An In-Depth Evaluation of the 2008 Election Cycle."

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