Jindal among new generation of governors seeking limelight

WASHINGTON (AP) — For governors with national ambitions, this is pad — and promote — your record time.

Republicans Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is trying to ditch his state's income tax while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is working

to shift people off his state's Medicaid rolls and onto private insurance. They are among the Republicans trying to claim

an outside-the-Beltway mantle in a GOP lacking a single standard bearer.

Their Democratic counterparts, like Martin

O'Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York, are putting

themselves at the

vanguard of Democratic wish lists — from gay marriage and gun

control to manufacturing jobs and capital punishment — as they

seek to be seen as a voice on issues paramount to a diverse

coalition of minorities, women and young people that twice elected

President Barack Obama.

These are the sort of politics that will be

the subtext during the annual National Governors Association meeting in

Washington,

where governors are gathering amid another standoff between the

White House and congressional Republicans over deep spending

cuts. The timing gives governors, especially those jockeying to be

seen as leaders of their respective parties, the chance

to point to their stewardship of tight state budgets and policy

agendas as Washington is mired in gridlock.

Several governors face re-election in 2014 —

Republican Chris Christie goes before New Jersey voters later this year

— and

the races will become part of the so-called "invisible primary"

for those looking to build a national following among party

activists and financial donors for their upcoming campaigns, if

not for a future presidential one someday. Those with aspirations

beyond their states are mindful that a leadership vacuum exists in

the GOP and that one is on the horizon in the Democratic

Party, too, given that Obama is in his second term.

"Any way you slice it, governors writ large,

and Republican governors in particular, are spearheading robust policy

agendas

that are making real change to the bottom line of their states,"

said Phil Musser, a GOP strategist and former executive director

of the Republican Governors Association.

Republicans hold a majority of governor's

mansions and view the states as models of conservative governing.

Virginia Gov.

Bob McDonnell has made transportation funding reform a key piece

of his legislative agenda as he seeks to grapple with growing

road-and-bridge costs. Ohio's economy has rebounded during Gov.

John Kasich's term, and he has promoted plans to overhaul

the state's tax code and school funding system.

Jindal, in his second term at age 41, has

built up a record of ethics reforms, cuts to business taxes and his

state's response

to the devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He has

proposed eliminating the state income tax — a move cheered on

by conservatives — by raising sales taxes and possibly boosting

tobacco taxes and broadening the list of services taxed by

the state. An Indian-American, the governor also has been pitching

ways for the GOP to reach out to minorities and working-class

voters. And he regularly urges his former colleagues in Congress —

he was a House member — to move beyond a debate over who

can better manage the federal government.

Christie is seeking re-election in

Democratic-tilting New Jersey. Blunt and straight-talking, he has seen

his approval ratings

soar since Superstorm Sandy and has been working to broaden his

appeal with an anti-Washington message while vowing to avoid

the "old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes."

Democrats hope this year's campaign in New

Jersey will expose what they contend is a weak record on the economy —

the state's

unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in December, well above the

national average — and ratchet up support for state Sen. Barbara

Buono, Christie's likely opponent.

In Wisconsin, Walker, who survived a

union-led campaign to recall him from office, has proposed changes to

the state's Medicaid

plan in the aftermath of Obama's health care law. Instead of

simply expanding Medicaid, a move opposed by conservatives, Walker

wants to lower his state's income-eligibility rate and make other

changes that he says will reduce the number of people on

Medicaid but still cut the number of uninsured. State Democrats

are wary of the plan.

Walker brushed off talk of presidential

politics on Friday but made clear that a higher profile has allowed him

to promote

not only his state but the policies he cares about. "Do I want to

run? I want to be governor," Walker said in an interview.

"I had to work hard twice in the last two years to be governor of

Wisconsin. I got even more votes the second time. For a

lot of people who worked hard for me to be governor, I need to be

focused on that."

Among Democrats, at least two governors who

appear to have aspirations beyond their states — Cuomo and O'Malley —

are pushing

progressive agendas that pull the heartstrings of the party

faithful even as many activists wait to see whether former Secretary

of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Vice President Joe Biden will

try to succeed Obama.

Cuomo has sky-high approval ratings and a long list of accomplishments that include pushing same-sex marriage and enacting

the first gun control measure in the nation following the Connecticut school massacre.

O'Malley has portrayed his time as Baltimore

mayor and Maryland's governor as indicative of a results-oriented

approach. He

regularly promotes his state's strong record on education and

pushes for gay marriage and gun control. O'Malley has most recently

pushed for Maryland to abolish the death penalty.

"It's a long ways off and I'm focused on

governing well," O'Malley said of presidential talk during an interview.

"Some of

the best advice that I've ever received is that doing the job that

you have and doing it well is the most important thing."