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MALEK: New red blood flows in blue states

Four gubernatorial candidates to watch

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With only days to go until Election Day, most Beltway reporters and bloggers are focusing on races that will affect what will go on inside the Beltway. Will Republicans come up just short in the House, or will there be a complete landslide? Is the Senate within reach for the GOP? What does a Republican Congress mean for President Obama's chances in 2012?

All these questions are fine and good. But a lot of political analysts are missing where the real action is for Republicans: in the states with gubernatorial races.

For Republicans in these races, what are important to notice aren't the usual cliches of using states as laboratories of conservative ideas or how this is laying the groundwork for potential presidential or vice-presidential candidates.

In fact, it's simpler than that: It's about the injection of new blood into the Republican Party with so many new faces in these gubernatorial races. And this new blood isn't just about giving the Republican Party a different look; it's also about playing in states that pundits only a couple of years ago thought were turning blue or were permanently blue.

There are four Republican candidates for governor who are making waves because all of them have something unconventional to offer:

c Susana Martinez, New Mexico: In June, shebecame the first Hispanic woman nominated by a major party for governor anywhere in America. One could have thought otherwise, but Mrs. Martinez has a very strong stance against illegal immigration, seeking to get rid of laws that provide driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. It's no surprise, though, when you look at her background: district attorney and New Mexico's prosecutor of the year in 2010.

c Brian Sandoval, Nevada: Another crime fighter, he is running against Sen. Harry Reid's son. He's had political experience before as a chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and as Nevada's attorney general earlier this decade. But he took a break from politics and was appointed a federal judge for the state of Nevada in 2005. When was the last time someone gave up a lifetime appointment for the prospect of a four-year term? And, oh yes, he's also of Hispanic heritage. Isn't it appropriate that the party of Lincoln would have two outstanding gubernatorial candidates of Hispanic heritage?

c Chris Dudley, Oregon: Mr. Dudley spent his career blocking shots and rebounding in the NBA, while his post-basketball career included the successful opening of a charity organization devoted to diabetic children as well as becoming a wealth-management adviser. With no political experience, he's taking on a former governor in what should be a very close race.

c Scott Walker, Wisconsin: Unlike the previous three Republicans, Mr. Walker has plenty of political experience: He has been a member of the Wisconsin state Assembly for a decade and Milwaukee County executive for the past eight years. That's right: a Republican county executive in a very Democratic county. And an executive who has demonstrated how to balance a budget consistently without raising taxes.

But notice the one thread that ties all of these gubernatorial candidates together: None of them is a current or former member of Congress. If there's any reason to believe in the power of the Tea Party movement and the conservative shift that many independent voters have undergone, I believe this is the most stark. Conservatives and independents (and even some Democrats) aren't interested in anybody with experience in Washington. Americans are interested in candidates who live, work and raise their families among themselves. Yes, this all comes from an anti-Washington sentiment, but it has produced a young, pro-conservative slate of candidates who can start to do great things within the states they plan on leading.

Fred Malek is chairman of Thayer Capital Partners and the American Action Network.

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