GOP

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com­fort­able this week declar­ing that the New Jersey gov­er­nor was “not fis­cally con­ser­va­tive.” Mr. Christie has felt com­pelled to pub­licly re­state that he is a true con­ser­va­tive.

But Mr. Christie en­joys a clear ad­van­tage on the road to 2016. He just won re­elec­tion in a land­slide and doesn’t need to fo­cus on an­other elec­tion be­fore the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race. He also will have the man­tle of the RGA for the next two years to make the case for his man­age­ment style and fis­cal poli­cies.

Mr. Walker, on the other hand, is skip­ping this year’s RGA con­fer­ence as he criss­crosses the coun­try pitch­ing his new book ti­tled “Un­in­tim­i­dated,” which ex­tols his ef­fort to break up Wis­con­sin’s unions and be­come the only gov­er­nor in U.S. his­tory to sur­vive a re­call elec­tion.

Mr. Walker is em­braced by many of the party’s core con­ser­va­tives and, un­like Mr. Christie, he has re­jected Oba­macare’s Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion and has been cool to the idea of al­low­ing gay mar­riage in Wis­con­sin. But he faces a tough re-elec­tion bat­tle next year that must be won be­fore he truly can set his sights on 2016.

His book in many ways is de­signed to be a pol­icy place­holder for the 2016 race un­til he can fin­ish his re-elec­tion busi­ness in Wis­con­sin.

Plenty of other Re­pub­li­cans are likely to jump into the 2016 fray, in­clud­ing Mr. Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who are fa­vorites of the tea party, and for­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum of Penn­syl­va­nia.

But con­ven­tional wis­dom has it that Re­pub­li­cans — like Amer­i­cans in gen­eral — pre­fer to elect as pres­i­dent some­one who has the ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence to com­pe­tently man­age a na­tion that stretches across five time zones and boasts a pop­u­la­tion of 317 mil­lion.

That con­ven­tional wis­dom re­gard­ing gu­ber­na­to­rial pref­er­ence is more like an ur­ban myth. Only 17 of the 44 U.S. pres­i­dents have been the elected chief ex­ec­u­tives of their states — though four of the past six pres­i­dents — Jimmy Carter, Ron­ald Rea­gan, Bill Clin­ton and Ge­orge W. Bush — had been gov­er­nors. So gov­er­nors for the mo­ment seem to have a bit of an edge, and of the 30 Repub­li­can gov­er­nors in of­fice, Mr. Walker and 21 oth­ers are up for re-elec­tion — seven of them in states that were friendly to Mr. Obama last year.

The RGA has its share of other pop­u­lar stars, in­clud­ing re­tir­ing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Mex­ico Gov. Su­sana Martinez and South Carolina Gov. Nikky R. Ha­ley. Each can boast ro­bust state economies and fis­cal poli­cies that are work­ing.

But none has the star power of Mr. Christie or Mr. Walker. Both earned their stripes by stand­ing up to their states’ once-pow­er­ful pub­lic em­ploy­ees unions and win­ning con­ces­sions on col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and up­ping em­ployee con­tri­bu­tions to ben­e­fits pack­ages.

Mr. Christie has run the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and will have at least six years of ex­pe­ri­ence as gov­er­nor by the time he starts a pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion drive in 2015, if he does.

Mr. Walker has plenty of man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence too, in­clud­ing two four-year terms as Mil­wau­kee County ex­ec­u­tive — sim­i­lar to the mayor of a city of nearly 1 mil­lion peo­ple — and four years as gov­er­nor. As he works his book tour, he is quick to cite his man­age­rial ac­com­plish­ments.

“Dur­ing my eight years as county ex­ec­u­tive, we cut the num­ber of county work­ers by 20 per­cent and turned a $3.5 mil­lion county deficit into a sur­plus,” he said in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times.

As gov­er­nor, he stuck to his prom­ise de­spite some­times vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion from the unions and their Demo­cratic al­lies. “I signed a bill that re­quires pub­lic work­ers to con­trib­ute 5.8 per­cent of their salaries to their pen­sions — that’s up from zero for most of them — and to pay 12.6 per­cent of their health in­sur­ance premi­ums, up from 6 per­cent,” he said.

Mr. Walker takes credit for achiev­ing even more of the things that have been dear to, but un­ob­tain­able, by con­ser­va­tives for years, such as end­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing for “ev­ery­thing ex­cept base wages, end­ing com­pul­sory union mem­ber­ship, and stop­ping the forced col­lec­tion of union dues.”

For many con­ser­va­tives and in­de­pen­dents, his most strik­ing ac­com­plish­ment was what he de­scribed as “free­ing school dis­tricts from the stran­gle­hold of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rules,” thus al­low­ing them, for ex­am­ple, to buy health in­sur­ance on the open mar­ket and hire and fire teachers based on merit for the first time. Mr. Walker also can boast to hav­ing made Wis­con­sin’s pen­sion sys­tem “the only one in the coun­try that is fully funded.”

The RGA meet­ing will give all the Repub­li­can gov­er­nors a chance to show how their poli­cies are cre­at­ing eco­nomic growth that out­paces most blue states. And they’ll be­gin to sketch out the poli­cies likely to dom­i­nate the agenda in key states for the next few years, rang­ing from ed­u­ca­tion to tax re­form.

The ques­tion that looms large and unan­swered, how­ever, is whether one of the 28 cur­rent GOP ex­ec­u­tives has the cre­den­tials, in­fra­struc­ture and charisma to be the next pres­i­dent.

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