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GOP governors preach pragmatism as way to revive national standing

At a meeting this week in New Orleans, they stress the party will have to be results-oriented. Bush brothers garner attention as new dynasty.

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On paper, they all preach a common vision for America: a land of limited government, lower taxes, balanced budgets, and reformed welfare programs.

But there's a big difference in the roles and methods of the Republican governors and those of their colleagues who maintain a fragile majority in the US House and Senate. In the view from the states, congressmen get elected to fight for ideas, governors get elected for results.

The distinctions were on vivid display here at the start of the annual Republican Governors Association (RGA) meeting in New Orleans this week. Governors seemed to relish offering fresh faces and leadership styles to the national GOP in its hour of need.

They did so on a day, coincidentally but significantly, when official Washington was occupied with impeachment hearings. Indeed, a subtext of the meeting here was a basic question: Is the geopolitical center of the party moving to the states?

"A lot of people see Congress as a debate society," says Gov. Frank Keating (R) of Oklahoma, incoming RGA chairman. "At the state level, we work with majority Democratic legislatures and we get things done. The public has the attitude that if you've got to pay for it, you want it to work."

Call it pragmatism or "conservatism with compassion." Just don't call it the "m" word - moderate. But there's a less strident, more constructive tone coming from GOP leaders these days with a greater focus on making government work in real-life issues such as education and jobs.

And the change in tone is clearly coming from the Republican men and women who govern states where some 70 percent of the American people live. They are leaders who have learned to build their support on the political middle ground - and are quick to point out that they held their own in 31 states in elections this fall, while Republicans in Congress lost seats.

"The governors learned a lot from Bill Clinton: You run from the center," says William Schneider, political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "If you look at their programs, they look a lot like what Clinton talked about in 1992. But they won't admit it."

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