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GOP Governors' Meeting Showcases Potential Presidential Candiates


As a group, few are riding higher politically right now than the Republican governors. They dominated statewide elections earlier this month so as they gather this week for the annual Republican Governors Conference, not surprisingly many are looking ahead to a bigger prize in 2016. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Boca Raton.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: For New Jersey governor Chris Christie, it's been a good month. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he oversaw a robust political operation that spent $130 million in the midterm election. In the weeks before the election, Christie campaigned with candidates it seemed everywhere - New Hampshire, Iowa, Florida, Ohio and he was successful. Nearly every incumbent Republican governor won re-election and Republicans won governors' races in traditionally Democratic states - Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois. In Boca Raton, governor after governor praised Christie and he said basically, it was nothing.


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: When you have good candidates putting forward a very clear and direct vision of where they want to take the state, no matter what the demographics of that state is, you've got a chance.

ALLEN: In January, there will be 31 Republican governors. Along with Christie, their ranks currently include at least five other governors considering a presidential run. One of them is former Congressman, now Indiana governor, Mike Pence. He said the face of the Republican Party is now represented best not by leaders in Congress, but by the governors.


GOVERNOR MIKE PENCE: I hope the new majorities in Congress and this administration recognize the rising confidence of the American people in Republican leadership at the state level.

ALLEN: More than two dozen Republican governors and governors-elect are in Boca Raton to connect with colleagues and party donors and to bask in their election success, but yesterday Republican governors found themselves once again focused on Washington and President Obama's impending executive action on immigration. Pence condemned it, as did Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Walker also sees an ulterior motive.


GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: I think it is a cynical ploy to try drawing attention away from the huge successes Republicans had connecting with the American people one state at a time and look what's happening. Instead of talking about the huge things that we have on the agenda, we're talking about immigration.

ALLEN: Walker is another possible presidential candidate who's earned the respect of Republicans nationwide. After surviving a recall vote and with his re-election this month, he's now won three statewide races in four years in Wisconsin, a traditionally blue state. He shared the stage yesterday with another likely contender - outgoing Texas governor, Rick Perry. Perry is handing off the office to the state's attorney general, fellow Republican Greg Abbott. On Obama's pending immigration announcement, Perry said he had no doubt that it would cost Texas millions of dollars and that it's likely Texas will sue.


GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Greg Abbott, who is the new incoming governor of Texas - who, by the way is going to be just a fabulous governor - his job description over the last six years when he was asked what do you do? He said, I go to the office, I sue Obama and I go home.


ALLEN: In an apparent nod to 2016, the event was billed as the road ahead. It also featured Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, another presidential contender. Jindal talked about his opposition to Obama's immigration order, to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and Common Core educational standards.

The governors on stage mostly shared his views except for one. Ohio governor John Kasich won re-election by a huge 30-point-plus margin. On immigration, Kasich said, he'd consider a path to citizenship. On Common Core, he said, it's working for Ohio and he defended his record of expanding Medicaid coverage.


GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH: I'm running a billion-and-a-half surplus in Ohio. Our credit rating is up. We've created a quarter-of-a-million jobs and we're helping a lot of people. Now, to me that's a pretty good formula for my state.

ALLEN: Republican governors say their success in the states is a model for the country and that they don't want their party defined by the dysfunction in Washington, a wish that may be tested in the months ahead.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Boca Raton, Florida. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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