GOP governors hold line on Iraq, acknowledge tough politics ahead |

GOP governors hold line on Iraq, acknowledge tough politics ahead

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Heading into a tough election year, Republican governors attending their annual meeting voiced strong support Thursday for President Bush’s stand on the Iraq war and played down his lapsed popularity.The meeting comes at a tense time for the party. Public doubts about the war are mounting. Democrats won both governor’s races in last month’s election, in New Jersey and in Virginia, a Republican-leaning state.This week, San Diego-area Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham – one of several Republicans in Washington entangled in legal problems – pleaded guilty to bribery and tax evasion charges and resigned.With 36 gubernatorial seats up for election in 2006, along with midterm elections in Congress, Republicans will be stressing job growth, education and homeland security, said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the newly installed chairman of the Republican Governors Association.”That’s what we are devoted to, that’s what these races are about,” Romney told reporters. “The reason that there are so many Republican governors is that individuals look to the person and to their ideas first, and to their party affiliation second.”Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East, said the U.S. will be victorious in Iraq and criticized Democrats who have called for the president to set a date to withdraw. He was among a group of Republican governors who spoke out in support of the mission in Iraq.U.S. troops “are birthing democracy in a very important part of the world,” Perdue said. “I’ve never known us to run any war by a calendar. You don’t run a war over partisan politics.”Democrats are trying to gain ground in Congress and statehouses across the country by turning the president’s troubles into a liability for GOP candidates.At the same time, issues such as illegal immigration are dividing Republicans, with many pressuring Bush to take a harder line on border enforcement.”The national issues and the state issues, to some extent, are different,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. “But there is also going to be some spillover.”In a speech to the governors, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman recalled that President Reagan was all but written off by critics early in his second term, but he answered with results.The party’s challenge now, Mehlman said, is to “follow in the Ronald Reagan legacy.”Reagan “knew that there were things far more important than domestic politics,” Mehlman said. “We cannot be disheartened.”Mehlman told reporters that races across the country will be decided on local issues and individual candidates, not the rise and fall of presidential polls.”Overall, I think voters want change,” he said. “And I think we as Republicans need to be the party of change and the party of reform.”California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not appear publicly at any of the conference’s morning events but was expected to attend a private dinner Thursday night.Vail, Colorado

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