BOSTON (AP) – With no end in sight to the federal government shutdown, Republican governors eyeing the 2016 presidential race are pitching themselves as can-do politicians and highlighting records of achievement.
Although unstated, their goal is clear – draw a contrast with their prospective presidential challengers on Capitol Hill aligned with a vocal band of Republicans whose demands that Congress defund the health care law helped trigger the shutdown.
“Republican governors are not going to take it anymore,” says Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, among those state leaders and potential presidential candidates using the shutdown to try to position themselves as outsiders at a time of voter disgust with Congress and anyone connected with Washington.
Writing this week in an opinion piece, Jindal added: “We are not going to allow the Republican Party to be defined by the dysfunction in Washington.”
From New Jersey to Wisconsin to Michigan, governors with national aspirations are sounding similar tones. Their potential 2016 competitors now in Congress – including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – have been relatively silent about a government shutdown that has closed national parks and forced hundreds of thousands of employees out of work and threatens to further damage the Republican Party's image.
The fissures within the ranks of the likely GOP presidential candidates illustrate a broader party split as it starts looking for a standard-bearer in the aftermath of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's White House defeat last fall.
As in past years, governors weighing bids sense political opportunity, mindful that their predecessors have long had success in presidential politics partly because of their distance from an unpopular Congress. Four of the last six presidents had been governors.
“Blame can go around for everybody,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another GOP leader contemplating a presidential bid, said when asked about the shutdown. “The best way to resolve it? Just look at what we did in Wisconsin. We had a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We now have more than half a billion surplus.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, facing re-election in November and looking ahead to 2016, released a television ad the first day of the shutdown highlighting his collaboration with Democrats in crafting a state spending plan. He's also scheduled a series of public appearances with prominent Democrats and taken to social media to distinguish himself from Washington Republicans.
Asked about the shutdown, Christie this week called it a “failure” of public figures in Washington.
“Much too much in politics these days we have folks who have forgotten that one of the most important parts of leadership is listening. Listening to people of divergent views and opinions,” he said. He added, “I hope in Washington what they figure out is that what we pay them to do when we send them down there is to run the government, not to shut it down.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been working to raise his national profile, called the shutdown “a bad answer.”
“Michigan's a great model to show how it can be done successfully,” Snyder said during a news conference this week. “We had a billion-and-a-half dollar deficit. We had two or three years prior to taking office where we had government shutdowns. So we had a mess. We came in, did tax reform, balanced the budget, have done that several years successfully.”
Snyder continued: “I would appreciate it if Washington might consider stop blaming, stop taking credit, get in a room, solve the problem and keep moving forward.”
For congressional Republicans with presidential aspirations, the shutdown seems to present challenges more than political opportunities.
Possible candidate and tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., has become a leading figure in the shutdown debate. Advisers to Rubio and Paul suggest that each will maintain a relatively low profile until the dispute is resolved.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee, also has avoided being at the forefront of the public debate as he works with Republican leadership.
All this while Congress' approval ratings remain low. Just 10 percent of Americans approve of Congress, according to a CNN/ORC poll conducted Sept. 27-29, which pegged congressional disapproval at 87 percent.
Republicans in particular fare worse than Democrats. A Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters found last week that only 17 percent approved of how congressional Republicans were handling their jobs, while Democrats earned 32 percent approval.