Well Before the 2012 Season, Obama Kicks the GOP a Political Football

By Chris Cillizza And Perry Bacon Jr.
Monday, February 23, 2009

One month into the Obama presidency, the race for the 2012 GOP nomination appears very much underway.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, before heading to the National Governors Association annual meeting that started over the weekend in the District, spoke Friday at a GOP gathering in South Carolina, one of the key primary states in the Republican nominating calendar.

And this week, potential GOP hopefuls will appear at forums where they will woo party activists.

Govs. Charlie Crist of Florida, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Haley Barbour of Mississippi will speak today at a dinner meeting of the Republican Governors Association, a day before Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gives the GOP response to President Obama's speech to Congress.

Sanford, along with former governors (and 2008 presidential candidates) Mike Huckabee (Ark.) and Mitt Romney (Mass.), will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference here later this week. (One notable absence: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who passed on a trip here -- a savvy move, given her risk of overexposure a full three years before votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.)

But the most obvious sign of the early campaigning has been in response to the economic stimulus proposal Obama signed last week. While Crist and Huntsman spoke positively of the package, nearly every other GOP presidential hopeful joined many fiscal conservatives in criticizing it -- with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty even appearing on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" to blast the initiative as too expensive.

With the stimulus money now headed to the states, the 2012 hopefuls have a big decision to make: whether to accept all the stimulus money slated for their states.

Jindal, for his part, said Friday that he would not accept funds that would increase the state's unemployment insurance coverage in the short term for fear that once the federal money disappeared, the state would be forced to raise taxes to keep the same level of coverage.

"Our state is facing a serious budget situation and it would be irresponsible to enter into an expansion of benefits right now that would ultimately increase taxes on the very businesses we are working to support during these tough economic times," Jindal said in a statement. "The federal money in this bill will run out in less than three years for this benefit and our businesses would then be stuck paying the bill."

But First There's 2010

While the focus in today's meeting between Obama and the nation's governors will be on the 2012 GOP aspirants mentioned above, there are any number of compelling campaign story lines for 2010, when 38 states will hold gubernatorial elections.

Democratic-held governorships in Republican strongholds such as Oklahoma, Kansas and Tennessee are up for grabs, and several embattled governors -- Jim Gibbons (R) of Nevada and David A. Paterson (D) of New York, to name just two -- are already fighting for their political lives.

Here's The Fix's latest Line on the five most likely governorships to switch party control in 2010. For a full list, check out The Fix online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.

5. Tennessee (Democratic-controlled): Democrats saw their chances of holding the Volunteer State governorship weakened when Rep. Lincoln Davis (D) took a pass on the race. Former congressman Harold Ford Jr. (D) isn't running, either -- although he has yet to say so publicly -- and there isn't a terribly deep Democrat bench. Any Democratic candidate will start behind either Rep. Zach Wamp or Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslem -- the two leading GOP candidates.

4. Oklahoma (D): Candidates continue to circle this race. The latest is state Sen. Randy Brodgon (R), who joins U.S. Reps. Mary Fallin and Tom Cole as potential Republican candidates. The Democratic field is slightly more settled, with Lt. Gov. Jari Askins in the race and state Attorney General Drew Edmondson weighing the contest but not expected to make a decision until the fall. The strong Republican nature of Oklahoma means that the GOP nominee starts the general-election race as a favorite.

3. Kansas (D): Two things make this race a very likely pickup for Republicans. First, the popular Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) is term-limited out of office after eight years. Second, Sen. Sam Brownback (R) is running for governor. Even if Sebelius leaves office early to take a post in the Obama administration, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson has said he will not run for governor in 2010. The Democratic base is thin, and no top-tier candidates have come forward.

2. Rhode Island (Republican-controlled): Candidate recruitment is still ongoing, but there doesn't appear to be another Don Carcieri coming down the pipe for Republicans. Carcieri, the term-limited Republican governor who is out of office in 2010, campaigned as an outsider with a pragmatic perspective on government and managed to win two terms in this decidedly Democratic state. In 2010, all of the energy appears to be on the Democratic side. State Treasurer Frank Caprio is setting the early pace for Democrats with more than $1 million in his campaign war chest.

1. Nevada (R): Republicans and Democrats agree: If GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons runs for a second term in 2010, he will lose. Gibbons's travails are too numerous to document here (if you want a full accounting, read Fix friend Jon Ralston), but the following headline says it all: "Governor Gibbons hopes to delay proceedings in civil trial." Not good. Rory Reid, the chairman of the Clark County Commission and eldest son of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), is raising money for the race, and state Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is also interested.


Knickerbocker SKD, a well-regarded direct-mail firm in New York, is expanding its reach into the nation's capital -- opening an office and hiring veteran political operative Chris Cooper to run it.

Cooper, a partner in MSHC, another mail operation, starts the new job March 2. He brings a wealth of campaign experience to Knickerbocker, having managed the campaigns of Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) in the mid-1990s and overseen a number of races as a mail consultant. Among the clients Cooper will bring with him are Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.), Chet Edwards (D-Tex.) and Zack Space (Ohio).

Josh Isay, a former aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), founded Knickerbocker. The firm has done considerable work in New York for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) and the Service Employees International Union, and it was one of a handful of mail firms that did work for the Obama presidential campaign.

1 DAY: President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress. While it's not officially a State of the Union speech, expect it to be covered like one.

22 DAYS: Former president George W. Bush gives his first speech since leaving office last month. The address will be in Calgary, Alberta.

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