SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — With the government shutdown one month behind them and Democrats suffering from the clunky rollout of President Obama's signature health care law, congressional Republicans are cautiously optimistic that their public image is on the rebound.
But where congressional Republicans see a ray of hope ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, Republican governors see little reason to celebrate. Meeting in Arizona at the Republican Governors Association, the state executives continued to rail passionately and frequently against the dysfunction in Washington that they say remains a drag on the GOP's public standing.
"I don't quite know what's happened in Washington from the time I was there, when we actually could get some things done, but it's pretty bad," said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a former congressman now thought to be considering a bid for president in 2016. "People that I know are very frustrated with the fact that they can't seem to solve problems in Washington."
Some of the harshest critics of Washington among the Republican governors are those who previously served in Congress. Like Kasich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, both former members of Congress, offered blunt, caustic assessments of the state of the federal government's legislative branch.
While they bash Congress, the governors also are promoting their own state-level efforts to prove to the public that conservative principles can inform and shape real-world solutions to a slew of issues that concern voters, from lowering taxes to creating jobs to shrinking the government.
"I think that's in stark contrast to the frustration that people have and the lack of progress in Washington, D.C.," Jindal said.
Diminishing federal lawmakers to boost governors' collective brand has been a calculated aspect of Jindal's strategy as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, a tenure that coincided with congressional Republicans' very public intraparty feuding and a government shutdown that most people blamed on the Republicans.
As he made the rounds on television news programs at the time, Jindal emphasized the stark contrast between Republicans inside and outside the Beltway.
It's unclear what role the governors' re-branding effort will play in the 2014 elections in which governors will be sharing the ballot with members of Congress. But the governors appeared determined to carry that anti-Washington message onto the campaign trail.
Beyond next year's election, Republicans from outside the Beltway are likely to continue pressing their anti-Washington message into the presidential elections in 2016, a race that several of the Republican governors may join.
Kasich is among those mentioned as a GOP presidential contender, but he has maintained a much lower national profile than some of his colleagues. On Wednesday, however, Kasich's message hinted at his national ambitions by dissing Congress and tying Hillary Clinton to Obama's new health care law by reviving the derogatory nickname Republicans had for Clinton's 1993 health care effort: "Hillarycare."
"America works better when it's run from the bottom up," Kasich said. "Let our people go."