Republican governors huddled here for their annual conference and a victory celebration to note their huge wins earlier this month during the midterm elections where they even gained seats in bright blue states, but the issue of immigration has overshadowed the party.
The Republican Governors Association conference being held this year at the posh Boca Raton Resort and Club coincides with the news of the president’s intention to announce major executive action on immigration reform and through most of the events that were open to reporters the governors were pressed over and over on the topic. One thing was clear: they are sick of the issue or at least being asked about it.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who just won re-election and is a possible 2016 presidential contender, said today it was the press and the president who were “obsessed” with the issue.
“This didn’t just come about in the last two weeks. All the media acted like this came up since the election,” Walker said, noting he believes no Republican or Democratic gubernatorial candidate even dealt with the issue that much on the campaign trail. “I would argue actually, most of the U.S. senators didn’t talk about that and yet you have fallen into the trap that the president of the United States has done to try and get you to divert your attention away from the real issues in this country.”
Walker stressed he and other governors here got elected because they are “actually talking about issues that people care about in our states.”
“You can keep asking about it, but that doesn’t change the fact... we responded to the issues people care about instead of obsessing over the things you are talking about now that aren’t even in the top 10 list of most Americans,” Walker said at a press conference with several other governors, including two other possible 2016 contenders Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Kasich, who sounded a more moderate tone over immigration at Wednesday’s events, said he hopes the president’s action is a “really small one,” adding he would tell President Obama: “Do what you feel you absolutely have to do, but you can’t go so far.”
These governors know whatever they say about immigration could put them on shaky political ground when it comes to 2016. It’s an issue Mitt Romney had to deal with in 2012 and no Republican candidate wants to have to face in a general election in 2016. GOP candidates routinely make more conservative points during the primaries, especially on the issue of immigration, in order to win the more conservative voting base. Of course, it’s not always easy to moderate in the general election as Romney’s “self-deportation” comments proved.
That’s another reason why changing the topic could be quite helpful.
On Wednesday, many of the country’s most watched governors came together for an event titled “Republican Governors: The Road Ahead” and the majority of the event focused on immigration and the president’s pending action. After almost half of the event was completely focused on the issue, it was clear the governors were getting antsy.
Jindal even tried himself to move the conversation to another topic saying to moderator, NBC’s Chuck Todd: “We’ve now spent 30 minutes talking about the president breaking the law.”
He wasn't the only governor on the stage tired of the topic. To laughs from the crowd, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told Todd: “Here’s what I’m thinking: You will probably not be invited to do a moderation for a presidential debate.”
The governors also met with donors and discussed strategy in private meetings at the pink-colored resort during the gathering. The party heads into January with 31 governorships, the most for either party in 16 years.