- Associated Press - Sunday, August 4, 2013

MILWAUKEE — Health care, budgets and education topped the “official” agenda for governors at their annual summer summit. But the 2016 presidential race was never far from view or the coffee-break conversation, given the clear White House interest from some in the crowd gathered near Lake Michigan.

With President Obama in his second and final term, the fields for both parties are wide open for the 2016 nominations. There are two years to go before primary campaigning begins in earnest, but prospective candidates are already putting out feelers to determine the support they might draw.

Some of the governors thought to have potential presidential ambitions were a study in contrasts at the Milwaukee meeting.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was perhaps the most conspicuous, playing the role of proud host and welcoming his counterparts from across the country to the area where he once served as county executive.

He schmoozed with governors and their families while taking batting practice at Miller Park, home of Milwaukee’s major league baseball team, the Brewers. He sat for private interviews with local and national media and was pressed by dozens of reporters on Friday, the conference’s opening day.

Most conspicuously, Mr. Walker sported a signature black and orange Harley-Davidson jacket and rumbled through downtown Milwaukee on his own 2003 motorcycle, leading a procession of 100 riders celebrating the 110th anniversary of Wisconsin’s iconic motorcycle.

“It draws more attention to what I’m trying to do in Wisconsin,” Mr. Walker said. “You’re in the news not for the sake of being in the news. It’s for a purpose.”

Like Mr. Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also has a national following. His outspoken style, background as a federal prosecutor and image as a Republican who has confronted powerful forces in his strongly Democratic state have made him a fan favorite.

But Mr. Christie could hardly have been less conspicuous in Milwaukee. He was accompanied by few staff, mainly security. Most noteworthy, Mr. Christie, who is usually accessible to news media and recently picked a very public feud with GOP Sen. Paul of Kentucky over security issues, granted no interview requests.

For Mr. Christie, the calculation is different than for others with possible presidential ambitions who attended the conference, including Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Democrats Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Martin O’Malley of Maryland. Unlike the others, Mr. Christie faces re-election this fall, and keeping his public profile focused on returning to office is a priority. Whatever prospects he may have for the presidential nomination would effectively vanish if he lost re-election.

Like Mr. Christie, Mr. Jindal kept a low profile. But he made strategic use of his time.

Mr. Jindal met with reporters Sunday morning shortly after pulling off the behind-the-scenes coup of the weekend. He had attended a fundraiser in Iowa at the invitation of Gov. Terry Branstad and flew with Mr. Branstad to Milwaukee, giving the two an hour of quality chat time. Because of Iowa’s early presidential caucuses, Mr. Branstad’s insight into the state’s politics is valued. He also carved out time for Mr. Walker and Mr. Christie.

“I like all these governors,” said Mr. Branstad, a veteran Republican. “I want to be a good friend and a good host.”

Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. O’Malley were as different as Mr. Christie and Mr. Walker. The Colorado Democrat was content to keep a lower profile, while Mr. O’Malley literally seized the spotlight.

At a Democratic Governors Association reception Saturday evening, Mr. O’Malley, who plays guitar and sings Irish folk tunes, sat in with the band on stage for several numbers.

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