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Governors come to DC, bringing their drama with them

A gaggle of governors are descending on Washington this week. Some are bringing more baggage than others.
(L-R) Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, and NGA Chairperson Mary Fallin, listen as they speak to members of the press in D.C., Feb. 25, 2013.
(L-R) Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, and NGA Chairperson Mary Fallin, listen as they speak to members of the press in D.C., Feb. 25, 2013.

A gaggle of governors from both parties are descending on Washington this weekend to attend the winter meeting of the National Governors Association and huddle with their respective partisan election committees. Some of the guests are bringing more baggage than others.

On the GOP side, embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will get a chance to test his standing in the party amid a series of investigations that have threatened to topple his presidential ambitions. Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, will meet with the group’s executive committee -- composed of other high profile governors like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina -- for the first time since ‘Bridgegate’ began.

In light of Christie’s struggles at home, one recent GOP gubernatorial candidate, Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli, has called on him to step down from his post. But while Republican leaders seem hesitant to hug Christie too close and his standing in national polls has plummeted, no sitting governors have followed Cuccinelli’s lead. That may have something to do with his fundraising, which remains prodigiously strong -– he brought in a record $6 million for the RGA in January after holding events with donors around the country.

The RGA’s events this weekend are closed-door except for a group press conference on Monday and it’s still unclear whether Christie will face the national media during his DC swing. A spokesman for the RGA could not confirm whether Christie would participate in the event.

Christie isn’t the only GOP governor with a cloud hovering over his appearance. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another potential 2016 presidential candidate, is under intense scrutiny over two criminal investigations involving his former aides.   

The first investigation looked into whether Walker’s staff, back when he was Milwaukee county executive, improperly mixed political business with their public duties and resulted in six convictions. A second investigation, still ongoing, is reportedly looking into possible campaign violations during the state’s 2012 recall election.

Walker was never a target of the earlier probe, but the release of more than 27,000 e-mails examined in the investigation is raising new questions about his role in the office’s politicization.

One message to campaign and county staff from Walker’s then chief-of-staff Thomas Nardelli mentioned that Walker wanted to hold daily meetings “to review events of the day or of a previous or future day, so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing.” Other e-mails are just plain embarrassing: one message from Nardelli includes an elaborate, racially inflammatory joke

A spokesman for Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the governor will not take any media questions during his trip to Washington. 

Other high-profile Republican governors eyeing the 2016 presidential contest are expected to attend the weekend conclave. They include Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has boosted his profile with a renewed emphasis on culture feuds like siding with Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he was suspended from his show over anti-gay comments and warning of a “silent war on religious liberty.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, who sought the party’s presidential nomination in 2012, is flirting with a second national bid.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has been floated as a possible White House contender as well. Like Walker, she’s a member of the GOPs vaunted Class of 2010 and now facing re-election. Another 2010er attending the weekend meeting is Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is fending off a tough challenge from Republican-turned-Democrat candidate Charlie Crist, whom Scott replaced as governor. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who has tried to triangulate between his state’s Democratic-leaning electorate and conservative Republican legislature, is also up for re-election. 

The Democratic side this weekend has a lot less drama surrounding its meetings, but it boasts some big names as well. With Hillary Clinton dominating the presidential field for now, however, it’s unclear any of them are 2016 contenders. 

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has said he is laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign while Clinton makes up her mind. O’Malley, who chaired the DGA before Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin took over in 2012, has raised his profile in recent years by successfully pushing to legalize same-sex marriage, grant in-state tuition for young undocumented immigrants, and enact new gun control measures.

 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who also signed gun control and marriage equality legislation, is another big player mentioned in the 2016 sweepstakes. A spokesman could not confirm whether or not he would be traveling to Washington for either the DGA or NGA events.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was a rare Democratic bright spot when he won office in 2010. But he’s tested the limits of his state’s newly Democratic lean with a strong progressive agenda and could face a competitive re-election fight. Should he win, he’ll likely draw buzz as a presidential or vice presidential dark horse as well, despite his repeated efforts to tamp down speculation.