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Republican Governors Seek To Build On '09 Successes

As Republican governors gather outside Austin today for their annual conference, the atmosphere will be a far cry from their gathering a year ago. Then, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stole the spotlight in what was her first major public appearance since the GOP ticket lost the presidential election. This year, Palin again is center of attention as she kicks off a book tour in Michigan. While 300 media credentials were issued last year, the RGA expects only a few dozen reporters this year.

But the mood is different for another, more important reason for the Republican leaders gathering here -- they're celebrating big wins in New Jersey and Virginia weeks ago, and expecting that momentum will continue in 2010 when the battlefield grows considerably larger.

"This year there's a lot more smiles," RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. "The focus among the governors last year was how are we going to win back a majority of governorships. This year, that remains the focus. But it's always a lot more joyful when you're actually gaining members this year."

Twenty of 24 Republican governors are attending, in addition to Governors-elect Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, and several candidates seeking office in 2010. The RGA plans to contrast what's going on in these Republican-lead states with the goings on in Washington, DC, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told reporters Tuesday evening.

"Unlike our Republican friends in DC, governors are able to implement effective, conservative policies that are gonna regain the trust in our party's ability to govern," he said. "We knew that there are Republicans that are concerned all across the country. What they're seeing out of the governors, and particularly what they're seeing out of RGA, is an organization that is being very effective and very efficient with their dollars."

Gov. Haley Barbour, the RGA chairman, said the organization expects to be able to do more to help its incumbents and challengers next year than in any previous cycle. The organization spent $13 million in New Jersey and Virginia, and has $25 million on hand as the next cycle begins, which he credited to an aggressive small donor effort that has allowed the group to be "less reliant on corporate money."

In that vein, Palin is still very much a part of the the RGA's 2010 plans. The group purchased a large supply of "Going Rogue" at a considerable discount, and will reward new donors with a copy signed by Palin herself.

"I suspect we're going to raise a whole lot of money with this," Barbour said. "She's mighty good to do this -- she was a great colleague."

The event is a showcase for all the governors, but particularly those who are building national profiles with an eye toward 2012. In addition to Barbour and Perry, Govs. Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels will be featured as the group plans to discuss specifically the views of RGA members on the latest developments in Washington.