The Republican presidential primary is shaping up to be a battle between the statehouse and the statesmen.
Current and former governors such as Jeb Bush (Fla.), Scott Walker (Wis.) and Chris Christie (N.J.) are touting their hands-on experience outside of Washington as a major asset against Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonNate Silver: Clinton has 79 percent chance of winning Clinton tops Trump in 2016 battleground states Poll: Clinton and Trump neck-and-neck MORE, the likely Democratic nominee.
“I’m always amused when it is treated as news that governors think that governors make better candidates,” Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump denies tapping Mike Tyson for convention Cruz-backed candidate wins GOP primary in Colorado Trump hires Rand Paul's former digital director: report MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill on Thursday.
“What America faces is not a management problem, it’s a leadership problem,” argued Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who recently threw his name into the mix as a presidential contender.
The notion that the executive experience governors get on the job is an asset in the White House is nothing new. But a crowded GOP field pulling talent from governors’ mansions and the halls of the Senate has jumpstarted that debate ahead of 2016.
With public approval of Washington policymakers cratering and legislative achievements on Capitol Hill hard to come by, governors see a solid opportunity to bolster their outsider bona fides and slam would-be competitors in the process.
Former Texas Gov. Ricky Perry has been aggressive in dismissing senatorial experience a White House selling point, saying earlier this month that “governors have to make choices…senators talk.”
Even governors who once rubbed shoulders as Washington lawmakers are quick to argue voters should look outside D.C. for presidential picks.
“With the deepest respect to my former colleagues, that I am persuaded, having spent 12 years in Congress and two years as a governor, that the cure for what ails this country will come as much from our nation's state capitals as it ever will from our nation's capital,” said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), according to the Associated Press.
Senators readily acknowledge that the nation’s capital is far from a favorite of voters.
“I get it. When you’re outside of Washington we’re any easy target,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneOvernight Tech: Groups grade Clinton tech agenda | Facebook activates safety check in Istanbul | Another holdup for location data bill Congress prepping short-term FAA bill GOP rep pushes Gingrich for Trump's VP MORE (R-S.D.), who has said he isn’t running in 2016. “When you drop down into the single digits in approval rating, it’s a very easy place, I think, for people who are running for national office to go.”
Senators eyeing a White House run are firing back, reminding voters they’re the ones on the front lines for issues on a global scale. They contend voters are simply eager for a strong Republican vision and aren’t going to demand certain a certain job title.
Cruz argued that voters are going to be looking for politicians who are fighting to lead the party, regardless of where they come from.
“Republican primary voters are less interested in a particular job title…than they are in who is standing up and leading,” he told The Hill. “Who is engaging on the great challenges of the day? Who is leading the fight to get back to the free market principles and constitutional liberties that our country was founded upon?”
Graham paints his 12 years in Washington as an asset. The three-term senator has caught heat from conservatives in the past for his immigration stance, but he contends that if voters think Washington is broken, aren’t they better off picking someone who knows how it works to try and fix it?
“It’s all about getting the Congress to work together, who has the skillset, who has the ability and really the desire to make Congress work better. And, quite frankly, who has shown a willingness to make Congress function,” he said. “In my case, I think I’ve got a pretty good resume of trying to solve hard problems.”
One area senators believe they have a key advantage is on the foreign policy front. Their seats in Washington put them in close proximity to a host of global leaders and national security issues.
While domestic concerns like the economy remain a dominant topic, growing unrest in the Middle East and terror attacks in Europe have renewed focus on national security matters as well.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Poll: Rubio, Murphy neck-and-neck in Florida Senate race Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding MORE (R-Fla.) seized on the foreign policy angle earlier this month, arguing that his vantage point from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gives him a critical edge over governors eyeing matters from their home states.
"The next president of the United States needs to be someone who has a clear view of what's happening in the world, a clear strategic vision of America's role in it, and a clear tactical plan for how to engage America in global affairs," he told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. "For governors, that's going to be a challenge, at least initially, because they don't deal with foreign policy on a daily basis."
Cruz and Graham both echoed that theme.
“Historically, in elections where foreign policy is a central concern, candidates without foreign policy experience have been at a substantial disadvantage,” said Cruz.
History may not be on the senators’ side, though. President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaPolitics and the perils of protectionism Trump on NAFTA: Renegotiate or withdraw Reid: Rubio should be sued over missed votes MORE became the first president elected from the Senate since John F. Kennedy in 1960. And after eight years of Obama, GOP primary voters may be eager to look far from the Senate for a replacement.
“A lot of Republicans see Barack Obama as somebody who was just not prepared for the job,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “Governors just have a stronger argument.”