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Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (left), Indiana Gov.-Elect Mike Pence (center) and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, participate in a panel discussion during the 2012 RGA Annual Conference on Thursday in Las Vegas. (AP)

GOP Governors Say Party Lost On Strategy, Not Issues

Nov 18, 2012 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Reported by

Wade Goodwyn

Republican governors got together in Las Vegas last week to take stock of the election results, which continue to sink in.

Going into Election Day, Republican confidence was high that the Grand Old Party would sweep President Obama aside, retake the U.S. Senate and reshape the country in the aftermath.

So on Nov. 6, when the results came in, many if not most Republicans were shocked by the president's victory. Pat McCrory, the newly elected governor of North Carolina, however, saw it coming.

"I knew it would be close. The Obama machine, the ground machine, is absolutely incredible," McCrory says. "I saw it in [2008], when I ran for governor and lost. ... I was blindsided by it. This time I wasn't blindsided by it, but I still think they have a much better ground machine than the Republican national party."

McCrory's take on the ground game is both true, and for Republican governors, politically convenient. The consensus in Las Vegas was that Obama won, not because Americans agreed with his positions on raising taxes on the rich or health care, but because Republicans got out-organized by the community organizer. Therefore, the president has no election mandate, because the reason he won had nothing to do with issues.

The other consensus was that Republican Mitt Romney wasn't a great presidential candidate.

"I really think this is not as much about Republican or Democrat, but about people are looking for leaders and they don't care what party they come from," he says. "I think what happened with Gov. Romney is he let himself be defined before he defined himself."

This analysis also lets Republican Party ideology off the hook. It was widely agreed that nothing needed to be changed except perhaps the tone. For example, the idea that more than 70 percent of Hispanics voted for the president because of Republican positions on illegal immigration was rejected by the Republican governors.

The accepted wisdom is that Republican candidates need to campaign harder, and let Hispanics know they really care about their vote. Then that vote will start coming the GOP's way.

"When I meet with many different immigration groups that come to our country, they're hard-working, strong morals, strong ethics, [and] strong family," McCrory says, "but we need to connect with them."

The governors do acknowledge that elections have consequences, but how should the party proceed? Nothing unites Republicans like Obamacare, and not a single one of the 30 Republican governors would agree to implement a state-run exchange.

The group sent the president a letter asking for more time and more information, but the governors also made it clear that most of them would do all they could to slow down or thwart the bill's implementation in their states.

On the question of the coming so-called "fiscal cliff," they continued to emphasize the necessity of not raising taxes on the wealthy.

Rep. Mike Pence is the newly elected governor of Indiana, but before he takes office he will be involved in the fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington. He says he'd try to keep an open mind, but told the assembled governors he brings a strong bias that "no country ever taxed its way back into prosperity."

"I think most Americans know that," he said. "I think the last thing we ought to do is embrace any policy that would result in a significant tax increase, particularly upon those in the best position to put hurting Americans back to work."

It may well be that the next Republican candidate for president will emerge from this large and strong group of conservative governors. The post-election rallying cry in Las Vegas was "no moderation" of the party's platform, and that a fresh face is all that's really needed.

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