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The governors, heads of their respective Republican and Democratic governors associations, clashed over national politics and exchanged a few shots over each other’s handling of in-state issues during the hour-long Q&A hosted by Politico.

During one exchange, Mr. O’Malley criticized Republicans for what he deemed their extreme political views, alluding to recent GOP debate over federal funding of contraception and the Virginia General Assembly’s flirtation with bills to require ultrasounds before abortions and define life as beginning at conception.

“They say votes for us and things will get better,” he said. “Then you vote for Republicans and they make a hard right turn.”

Mr. McDonnell contended he is more focused on economic issues than social ones and criticized Mr. O’Malley as “the only one who has social issues at the top of his agenda,” referencing the governor’s sponsorship of Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill.

The Virginia governor also poked fun at Mr. O’Malley’s political aspirations and took the Maryland governor to task for his frequent mentioning of former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts as a reason for the nation’s current economic ills.

“I’m just wondering when Governor O’Malley runs for president in 2016, is he still going to be blaming President Bush for everything that’s wrong with the country?” Mr. McDonnell asked.

Reporters David Hill, Tom Howell and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.