- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2012

Democratic governors are bullish on President Obama’s re-election prospects, citing the improving economy and a Republican nominating contest that has exposed deep divisions in the party’s base.

Republican governors insist Mr. Obama is vulnerable, but they say they are concerned the prolonged primary race has alienated independents and may have badly damaged the eventual nominee.

Democratic enthusiasm and Republican apprehension were both on display at the winter meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington, an annual four-day conference where states’ top executives gather to discuss policy and trade ideas on best practices but where politics are always close to the surface.

Many Democratic governors seemed almost giddy about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning a second term.

They pointed to the improving employment figures, which have helped raise state revenues after years of painful budget cuts. The national unemployment rate stood at 8.3 percent in January, down from a high of 10 percent in October 2009.

“These Republicans that are running for president, they’re so depressing. Cheer up!” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said after Democratic governors left a White House meeting with Mr. Obama. “We’ve got some good news: a great president creating jobs, and governors who are seeing revenues rebound.”

Even Democratic governors of some typically toss-up — or “purple” — states said they like Mr. Obama’s chances.

“In a purple state people want to see results and they also want to see a level of collaboration and teamwork. I think he is going to win Colorado,” the state’s governor, John Hickenlooper, said.

Meanwhile, virtually no Republican governors were willing to predict their party’s nominee would prevail in November.

Many lamented the drawn-out nature of the nominating process, in which the early front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has been weakened by the intense scrutiny of his wealth, business practices and shifts on issues as well as the unwillingness of conservative voters to rally behind his candidacy. Many conservatives have coalesced recently around former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney’s latest rival as the contest moves to primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday and 10 contests on March 6.

“I don’t know anybody who thinks if you started out to design a good process to pick a president you’d choose exactly what we have now,” said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican and former White House budget director who explored a presidential candidacy but ultimately decided against a run.

Another Republican, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said he wasn’t concerned that social issues had become part of the presidential campaign, saying such topics are top concerns for many Republican voters. But Mr. Corbett, who hasn’t endorsed a primary candidate, said the discussion would shift once a nominee is chosen.

“It will be the economy, the economy, the economy and it will be jobs, jobs, jobs. And I think that’s exactly where it should be,” he said.