The GOP's Secret Weapon

The GOP has one thing Democrats don't: State leaders getting things done.

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These are giddy times for Democrats: in the afterglow of President Obama's re-election, Republicans are down in the dumps. The recent Conservative Political Action Conference gave the media plenty of raw material to run major-split-in-the-Republican-Party pieces; and, within a week of all the manufactured controversy at CPAC, the Republican National Committee released a 100-page report highlighting many of the problems within the party. Gleeful Democrats around town look like the cat who ate the canary, barely able to suppress their delight. Happy days are here again.

Not so fast. Buried in the debate over whether Republicans need to change course on policy, improve their tone and messaging, reach out to minorities and women or get up to speed on technology—all of which need to be done, and soon—lies the best answer to the party's problems nationally. There it is, a recommendation all the way back on Page 55 of that RNC report: "Promote our Governors."

The Republican Party has one thing the Democrats don't have: a deep bench of governors and state leaders who are getting things done outside of Washington. Republican governors are in charge in 30 out of 50 states across the country. Democrats only control 19, and Rhode Island's governor is an independent. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature in 26 states as well, with Democrats holding only 18 (the remaining five are split between the two parties; Nebraska's legislature is nonpartisan and unicameral). Despite the fact that Obama won Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Nevada, voters in those six states have also elected GOP governors.

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Whether we're talking about creating jobs, improving schools, reining in unions, reforming health care or balancing budgets, governors are getting a lot more done than anyone on Capitol Hill.

A report this month on America's competitiveness in The Economist noted, "The overall picture is of revolution from the bottom up, rather than from the top down ... what is unfolding around the country offers a template for reform at the national level." In the states, public schools are going through a major overhaul; all but eight states now allow charter schools. Public-private partnerships in many states are funding infrastructure projects, which in turn boost employment. Increasingly, states are cutting red tape and burdensome regulations, lowering taxes, strengthening intellectual property rights and running state-funded "incubators" to encourage startups. "Beyond the Beltway, at least," The Economist reports, "politicians are finding ways to ease the restraints on growth." What The Economist doesn't say is that while some of those politicians are Democrats, most of them are Republicans. In fact, Republican governors run 8 of the 10 states with the lowest unemployment rates.

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It's almost as if there are two Republican parties: one federal and the other in the states. The federal one is crashing and burning; the one in the states is flying high. For example, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas (who invented the "Office of the Repealer" to get the state economy moving again) reformed the state Medicaid program to improve and expand services without cutting provider rates or removing people from the rolls—and saved the state more than $800 million over five years. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey enacted pension reform which saved retirees' pensions and $120 billion for the taxpayers over 30 years. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining reforms saved taxpayers $1 billion. Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal has enacted teacher accountability measures and parental choice in public schools, and Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico convinced the Democratic legislature to cut business taxes. Ohio's Gov. John Kasich closed an $8 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes.

According to the RNC, the party is now four short of its all-time high of 34 Republican governors elected in the 1920s. Together, their 30 states command 315 electoral votes, more than enough to win the presidency. The current crop of GOP governors routinely wins a much larger share of the minority vote than Republican presidential candidates have, suggesting that Republican principles can be popular beyond the mostly white, rural, socially conservative base. Republican governors are the answer to a lot of the problems the party faces.