Diverse GOP Governors Expect To Attract Voters

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Republicans have had a lot to celebrate since Election Day. In addition to taking the majority in the House of Representatives, they won nearly two-thirds of the nation's gubernatorial races — giving them control of 29 states.

This week in San Diego, the newly elected governors are mingling with the veterans at the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association. They also are celebrating the greater diversity of GOP candidates this year.

The main event Wednesday was called the "New Face of the GOP." It featured all of the governors-elect, which included two Hispanics, an Indian-American woman and the first woman to be elected governor of Oklahoma.

Yet in many ways, the incoming crop of Republican governors looked and sounded very much like veteran Republican officeholders — such as former congressman and governor-elect John Kasich of Ohio.

"I'm not just interested in balancing the budget in Ohio; I'm going to balance the budget and cut taxes because Ohio has to become more competitive," Kasich said.

And it's not just the GOP that was made new in this past election, it was the voters, said South Carolina governor-elect Nikki Haley, who will be the nation's first female Indian-American to serve as governor.

"We are seeing an awakening across this country, where I've never seen people more spirited about their government and elected officials so scared," Haley said. "It's a beautiful thing. We need to keep it that way."

In the coming year, just about every governor, regardless of ethnicity, will be dealing with the recession and serious budget deficits.

Mary Fallin, who will be Oklahoma's first female governor, sees an opportunity for "right-sizing government."

"Asking the question: Is government services relevant, efficient effective? And if it is not efficient, effective and relevant, we have to change it. Fix it. People just want to get a government that works for them," Fallin said.

The Republican party may have fielded a more diverse slate of candidates this year but they didn't necessarily get the support of minority voters.

For example, Hispanic voters backed Democrats by margins of about 2-to-1 almost everywhere but Florida, where Cuban-Americans have traditionally voted Republican.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said a lot of work remains to be done. But the diversity of Republican candidates sends a message, "by making sure that our party is welcoming and elevates and celebrates leadership from all backgrounds, all walks of life, and these are examples of that,"  he said.

But governor-elect of New Mexico Susana Martinez said Republicans have failed by not talking with minority voters about basic governmental philosophy. She knows this from experience, when she was a registered Democrat about to run for district attorney, and a couple of Republicans engaged her in just that way.

"We had this very long conversation, and my husband and I walked away, literally, and got in the car and said, 'Oh, my God! We're Republican," Martinez said.

She added that it's not even necessary to get Democrats to switch parties for Republican candidates to succeed.

"If you're willing to get out into those communities and just have conversations, they're willing to cross over and start voting for individuals instead of just for the party," Martinez said.

But South Carolina's Haley was looking beyond the idea of ethnic diversity. She was celebrating what she called the new wave of governors-elect who stood for something truly new and rare in politics.

"These are governors that don't care about re-election," Haley said. "They just want to get things done for their state."

There was not enough time to poll the other governors-elect, however, to see if they agreed with that assessment.

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