GOP Governors Put in Awkward Spot 02/24 06:17
WASHINGTON (AP) -- These should be heady times for the GOP as the nation's
governors prepare to gather for their winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
Republicans hold 33 governorships, compared with just 16 for Democrats, and the
GOP has full control of the legislatures in two-thirds of the states.
But there is a sense of unease for Republican governors in
Democratic-leaning states. They criticize President Donald Trump gently,
picking their spots to appease the Democratic and independent voters they need
to remain in office. At the same time, they don't want to alienate Trump
For some, the best strategy is to avoid mentioning Trump at all.
Democrats sense an opening ahead of the 2018 elections and are taking any
opportunity to link Republican governors to the president. Republicans will be
defending 27 of the 38 governorships up for election this year and next. Nine
of the GOP governors are in states Hillary Clinton carried last year.
"I think what the Trump administration has done, it has really made every
Republican governor out there --- especially a moderate Republican governor in
a Democratic state --- it has made them very vulnerable," said Virginia Gov.
Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association.
Republican governors who face re-election next year in states that voted for
Clinton are Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Bruce
Rauner of Illinois, Phil Scott of Vermont and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.
Four other states that voted for Clinton have governors who will be forced out
by term limits: Chris Christie in New Jersey; Paul LePage in Maine; Susana
Martinez in New Mexico; and Brian Sandoval in Nevada.
Sandoval, vice chairman of the governors association, said he is comfortable
being the face of moderate GOP governors across the country. He has urged
caution on Trump's pledges to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law
and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sandoval said he believes he and
other moderates can work productively with Trump and his Cabinet.
"We're five weeks into the administration, so I think it's really premature
to start drawing conclusions now, with regard to what the implication could be
in future elections," he said.
Heading into the upcoming governors' races, the Republican Governors'
Association is better-funded, having raised $60.7 million in 2016, compared
with $39 million by the Democratic Governors' Association. The RGA has tried to
paint Democratic challengers as too liberal and out of touch with mainstream
This weekend's bipartisan governors' gathering includes an audience with
Trump and leading Republicans in Congress. Governors of both parties are
concerned with a full range of proposals that could affect state budgets,
including possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, reforms to Medicaid,
immigration enforcement and spending for infrastructure.
Republican governors in Democratic-leaning states are especially vulnerable
if policies put forward by Trump and the GOP Congress are disruptive in the
Baker, a moderate with high approval ratings in a state politically
dominated by Democrats, has distanced himself from Trump since early in the
presidential campaign. He said he left his presidential ballot blank.
After the election, the Massachusetts governor promised to forge
constructive ties between the state and the new administration. But he has not
hesitated to criticize White House policies, including the travel ban aimed at
seven majority-Muslim nations that sowed confusion in the U.S. and abroad. He
publicly backed the state's attorney general, a Democrat, when her office filed
a lawsuit to block Trump's action.
During the women's march after the presidential inauguration, Baker was just
blocks away as protesters flooded Boston Common. Defending his absence, he said
he was working on time-sensitive matters and said it was not an intentional
In Maryland, Hogan --- who has enjoyed approval ratings higher than 70
percent --- also said throughout the presidential campaign that he would not
vote for Trump. On his presidential ballot, he wrote in the name of his father,
a former congressman.
Since the president took office, he has continually sidestepped questions
about Trump. Even in a friendly interview on a Baltimore rock radio station, he
made clear he was weary of the subject.
"I'm focused on solving Maryland problems," Hogan said. "I have 31 different
policy proposals and a real agenda to turn our state around, and the only
questions we get (are) 'Why aren't you protesting Donald Trump?' and 'Why
didn't you go to BWI (Airport) to do this or that?' I don't see that as my
Democrats, who control the Legislature and enjoy a 2-to-1 advantage in voter
registration, went against Hogan's wishes when they voted to expand the
attorney general's powers in response to Trump. And they're not nearly as shy
about mentioning the president.
"The governor seems unwilling to stand up to Mr. Trump, and so that will
fall to the Democrats," state Sen. Jim Rosapepe said.
As with the other governors, Rauner in Illinois said he is focusing on his
state --- or at least he's trying to. He went to great lengths not to stake a
clear position on Trump during the campaign --- refusing to comment on the
race, who he was voting for or even to say Trump's name. Since the election, he
has continued to avoid taking a clear position on the administration's policies.
His strategy is clearly intended to avoid alienating voters in Chicago, the
suburbs and other urban areas who supported Hillary Clinton in November, or
those in rural counties that went overwhelmingly for Trump. But avoidance also
comes with some peril: Democrats, who control the Illinois Legislature, called
the Republican governor cowardly for meeting with billionaire donors out of
state while refugees were stranded at Chicago's O'Hare airport after the
president's travel-banning executive order.
Rauner already has a slim margin for error after a two-year budget stalemate
has tanked his approval ratings.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, the chairman of the Democratic Governors
Association, senses a change after recent elections went overwhelmingly in the
"Clearly, the wave was against Democrats in '10 and it was against Democrats
to some extent in '14, but I suspect it's going to be against Republicans just
as strongly," Malloy said. "Can you overcome that? Absolutely, you can overcome
that, but you have to overcome that by separating yourself (from Trump)."