Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has quietly emerged as the clear favorite to replace outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Haslam took a backseat this week at the RGA’s annual two-day meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, to the six GOP governors who are attempting to highlight their case as potential presidential candidates.
But by the end of the week at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, Tennessee’s chief executive is expected to grab all the attention as the 31 GOP governors formally elect a new leader, according to Politico
Although the wealthy former Knoxville mayor was initially seen as a “dark horse” candidate for the role, he quickly came to the forefront after more high-profile candidates, including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, passed on the position.
Haslam has garnered the support of many of his fellow conservatives, partially due to the fact that he’s viewed as the anti-Christie, meaning that he’s seen as a soft-spoken, self-effacing problem-solver who is admired by his peers and gets things done without any drama, according to Politico.
If he does get the nod, he will be following the mighty footsteps of past and potential future presidential candidates, including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“Bill would be a great leader,” Jindal said. “He’s a thoughtful policy guy and that’s good for the organization.”
Whit Ayres, the national GOP pollster who advises Haslam, said the governor would be an “inspired” choice for the RGA.
“He is the most modest major political figure I’ve ever worked with in my life,” Ayres told Politico. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a governor anywhere in the country who is more popular than Bill Haslam. I mean, who has job approval ratings in the 70s these days, in this cynical age?”
And Ward Baker, the National Republican Senatorial Committee strategist who has worked with Haslam’s Tennessee team, said: “He’s a class act and a total statesman. He brings a business-type leadership and is really a workhorse. He keeps his head down and tries to get things done. He doesn’t care who gets the credit.”
An heir to the Pilot Corp fortune, Haslam is viewed as a “relative moderate” who has made his mark by pushing his business and education agenda while helping to keep the more flamboyant, arch-conservative members of his group in check, the political news website reported,
“I think [voters] are tired of just, this kind of continuous conflict,” Haslam, whose larger-than-life brother Jimmy owns the Cleveland Browns, told Politico last year. “They want to see principled problem-solving.”
Meanwhile, with the RGA on the verge of confirming a new leader, potential presidential candidates Christie, Perry, Jindal, Pence, Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker used the meeting as an audition to promote their talents over their senatorial rivals, Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, The Wall Street Journal reported
While illustrating their varying positions on a string of issues including immigration and Medicaid, they were still deeply respectful of each other during a closed-door RGA banquet.
“I thought that was classy,” said North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, adding, “Chris Christie said it well…now the hard part comes, it is to govern.”
And Christie said, “I don’t think competing with each other and being friends is mutually exclusive. I don’t think any of us have spent any time here trying to come up with some secret handshake or blood oath about what we are going to do or not do.”
But Perry made it clear that although it’s all fun and games following the GOP triumph in the midterms, the race for the White House in 2016 is already underway, “It’s on,” he said, when asked when the campaign was likely to begin.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage told the Journal that he has no doubts that the next president should come from the gathering in Florida, saying, “Chris Christie or a number of other governors would make great presidents. Senators and congressmen make horrible presidents.”
But it was Larry Hogan, who stunned the nation with his upset victory in Maryland’s gubernatorial race, who had the best line during the meeting: “I want to put everybody at ease…I have no intention of running for president.”
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