Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

For 2016, GOP need not look beyond its roster of governors


This weekend, one Republican reportedly will get a jump on the rest of the potential 2016 presidential field with a one-hour documentary -- call it an ad-umentary -- to introduce himself to the American people. His identity may come as a bit of a surprise: He's retired neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson.

Carson became a star on the right after his National Prayer Breakfast speech in which he criticized Obamacare in President Obama's presence. He subsequently gave a rousing speech at the 2013 CPAC conference (which I attended and wrote about ) and has been making the rounds visiting local GOP chapters (including the Fulton County GOP, covered here ).

Whether Carson is the right person to lead this country as its president is debatable. But his apparent entry into the race got me thinking about the GOP nominating process for 2016 (I told y'all this discussion would begin amazingly soon). And it occurred to me that the strength of the Republican Party is in its past and present governors -- to the point the party could hold a lively, competitive, instructive primary comprising no one else.

Consider this list of potential candidates with gubernatorial experience, and the particular angle(s) they might bring to the race. I started with the past/present governors found on this list at the national GOP's website. I then divided them into three groups -- likely to run, not unlikely to run, and unlikely to run -- based on no inside information, just my own sense of things gleaned from what I've read lately. I am leaving out the "unlikely to run," since there doesn't seem to be a pressing need to discuss them, and have listed the others in alphabetical order within each group:

LIKELY TO RUN

Chris Christie (New Jersey, current): Tough-talking straight shooter who has been effective working with Democrats -- and been elected twice -- in a blue state; solid blend of conservative and moderate credentials; successful leadership of Republican Governors Association during this cycle put him in good stead with a lot of newly elected/re-elected governors.

Bobby Jindal (Louisiana, current): An "ideas guy" whose two-term tenure has been marked by innovation and experimentation, especially regarding education; past experience in health policy; a Southern candidate who could appeal to the nation's growing South Asian population; at 43, the youngest person on this list.

John Kasich (Ohio, current): Crushed a Democrat on his way to re-election in a perennial swing state the GOP almost certainly has to win; not only enacted but defended an expansion of Medicaid; longtime congressman who chaired the House Budget Committee from 1995 to 2001, i.e. the last time the government ran a surplus.

Mike Pence (Indiana, current): Before being elected governor in 2012, spent 10 years in the U.S. House and built a reputation as a true-blue conservative; has walked a fine line on both Medicaid expansion and Common Core.

Scott Walker (Wisconsin, current): A conservative darling ever since he beat back a Democratic revolt over changes to laws governing public-sector unions in the state; two-time winner (three, counting a failed recall attempt) in a bluish-purple state that could be key to GOP hopes in 2016.

NOT UNLIKELY TO RUN

Jeb Bush (Florida, former): His last name cuts both ways; known for innovative policy, particularly on education; positions on immigration and Common Core run somewhat counter to that of the party's base but might be beneficial if he made it to a general election; hails from a must-win state for Republicans; speaks Spanish and is married to a Mexican-American.

Mike Huckabee (Arkansas, former): Probably the favorite of the religious right if he runs; relatively moderate reputation on economic and fiscal issues; might be the most formidable candidate in the South.

Susana Martinez (New Mexico, current): Former prosecutor who switched parties; two-time winner who just won re-election handily in a state the GOP presidential nominee has carried just once in the past six elections; as a Latina, she pushes back in two ways on the "old white male" stereotype of Republicans and could help with two important demographics.

Rick Perry (Texas, leaving office in January): Three-time governor of a huge, deep-red state that has been the country's best-performing state economically over the last few years; has dealt first-hand with border security issue; at 64, the oldest person on this list.

That's a pretty substantial and diverse list of candidates who cover a lot of the spectrum, in geography and ideology, on the GOP side. Sure, a lot of people would like to see senators such as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio run. My personal preference would be to see them wait, go back to their states, run for governor, and then possibly run for president with executive experience under their belts.

Of course, that'll never happen.

Still, I think there's a strong chance the best GOP candidate will be one of those governors listed above. Maybe not the one who ends up winning, but the best one.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.