2012 Try-Outs: RGA Conference Features Potential GOP WH Contenders

ABC’s Amy Walter reports: SAN DIEGO -– Interest and participation in this week’s Republican Governor’s Association conference in San Diego is huge. In fact, says the RGA, this is their largest Annual Conference in history.

One reason for the oversized interest: the number of potential White House candidates who’ll be gathered here, including Mississippi Gov. and RGA Chairman Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The outsized class of newly elected Governors, including those from key 2012 states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin are also here.

For an extra bit of drama, Gov. Mark Sanford will also be attending. There are no good Appalachian Trail/Argentina jokes to insert here, but it’s worth noting that the disabled Carnival Cruise ship that was recently towed to San Diego remains docked about a mile from the Hilton Bayfront Hotel. Do with that what you will.

In total, 34 governors are expected to attend, including 19 current and outgoing governors and 15 newly elected governors.

Tomorrow afternoon RGA members and the media meet the “New Face of The GOP.” The panel includes Hispanic governors-elect Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico as well as Indian-American Gov.–elect Nikki Haley of South Carolina.

Rounding out the panel are two new Governors who aren’t all that new to state or national politics (and aren’t women or minorities): ex-U.S. Rep. John Kasich of Ohio and State Attorney General Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.

Mary Fallin, the first woman elected governor of Oklahoma, joins Sandoval, Martinez, Haley and Tim Pawlenty for a press availability that afternoon entitled “A Revitalized GOP.”

On Thursday, the day begins with a who’s who of potential 2012 candidates. Entitled, “Leading By Example: Good Policy = Good Politics,” the panel features Barbour, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (who told AP today that he’s definitely not running in ’12, but who remains an intriguing VP pick or ’16 candidate), Pawlenty and Daniels. The two governors elected in ‘09, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and New Jersey’s Chris Christie are also on the dais. Both men have ruled out a run in ’12, but that hasn’t stopped the media –- or GOP activists -– from keeping them on their watch list.

Gingrich, meanwhile, is featured on the next panel with the oh-so-very-subtle title of “Saving America.”

The final panel, entitled “The GOP’s Midwest Resurgence,” features the four Republicans who picked up Democratic-held states this fall: Rick Snyder of Michigan, Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Corbett of Pennsylvania. Despite the heady atmosphere and the immodestly titled panels, these new governors seem well aware of the challenges that await them. All will start their new jobs this January confronted by significant fiscal problems, including yawning deficits, high unemployment and stagnant economic growth.

Still, most, if not all, say that they will fill these gaps without raising taxes but instead by aggressively cutting government programs and agencies. Some, like Kasich, Walker and Florida’s Gov.–elect Rick Scott, have also promised to cut taxes, even as they struggle to fill huge deficits.

New Mexico’s Martinez who just learned that the state’s budget deficit is almost twice as high as was originally reported ($450 million instead of $260 million), vowed during the campaign not to raise taxes but also took Medicaid and education cuts off the table as well.

Whether they can stick to their promises, while also losing the federal stimulus money that’s helped many of their predecessors fill in some of the shortfall, will be a huge challenge, but one that all of these new governors seem happy to take on.

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