Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is not ruling out a future White House bid, is one of the Republican governors gathering here to plot a way back to the White House and a congressional majority - and to search for a national party face to spar with the incoming Obama administration.
Joining Mrs. Palin at the three-day Republican Governors Association annual conference are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, all on Sen. John McCain‘s running-mate list and potential national-level leaders for a party reeling from years of losses.
Mr. Jindal, the nation’s first Indian-American governor, draws crowds of admirers at appearances outside his state. His supporters extend to rank-and-file Republicans and party officials who admire his sunny personality, business acumen and political sense.
Mr. Barbour is equally popular in his state, having come through Hurricane Katrina as a shining example of a can-do governor in what turned out to be self-help state. As Republican national chairman during the Clinton presidency, he was a bridge builder between the Senate and House GOP leadership when both chambers were controlled by Republicans.
Most GOP officials agree no one in recent memory performed better as the public face of the GOP during his leadership of the Republican National Committee.
The governors are natural spokesmen for their party - the ones Sunday talk shows and TV interviewers naturally turn to. But prominent party members say finding a single go-to “face of the party” may mean turning to someone like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or former Maryland GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele, the state’s first black lieutenant governor.
Mr. Steele is expected to formally make a play for the spot Thursday, and Mr. Gingrich, who publicly denies interest, reportedly covets the position and his backers are lobbying behind the scenes.
With several members of the RNC intent on replacing the current national chairman, Mike Duncan, at the committee’s January elections, lobbying is expected to take place here with the aim of getting the governors to begin a drumbeat of support for an RNC outsider to become chairman.
Of the 21 GOP governors left standing, 17 are expected to show up for the three-day Republican Governors Association annual conference here at the Intercontinental Hotel on Chopin Plaza.
In a series of interviews over the past several days, Mrs. Palin, who rallied conservatives to Mr. McCain’s side, knocked down anonymous claims from McCain camp officials who blame her, in part, for their solid loss last week.
“I think the economic collapse had a heck of a lot more to do with the campaign’s collapse than me personally,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show. She recalled there were many times when she “wanted to shout out, ‘Hey, wait a minute, it’s not true’” in response to anonymous accusations against her.
It was “pretty brutal,” she said.