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December 1, 2006
Poaching? Maybe Just A Little

The Republican Governors Association meeting attracted attention from a wide range of people ... even presidential aspirants who have never served as governor. While many expected the RGA meeting to serve as another platform for outgoing Massachussetts executive Mitt Romney for his presidential bid, John McCain raised a few eyebrows by spending heavily on receptions and leaning on his personal connections to steal a little of Romney's thunder:

Last anyone checked, Senator John McCain of Arizona is not — and has never been — a governor.

But no matter. Mr. McCain turned up on Thursday morning at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa here for a guerrillalike visit to the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association. That is a group headed by Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts governor who is widely viewed as Mr. McCain’s chief rival for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination.

As Mr. Romney gamely presided over the morning session of the meeting, Mr. McCain commandeered a room at the Doral Resort for eight hours of meetings with nine Republican governors, including Gov.-elect Charlie Crist of Florida, according to Republicans familiar with his schedule.

On Thursday evening, many of those at the conference were bused to an elaborate reception, courtesy of Mr. McCain, at a resort hotel in Miami Lakes. Somehow, no reception rooms were available for him here.

Mr. Romney has hoped, like George W. Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1996, to use the overwhelming support of the Republican governors as a springboard to the presidential nomination. Mr. McCain served notice with his incursion that Mr. Romney could not take them for granted.

McCain even managed to get one very early public endorsement, and this one had to sting Romney just a little. Tim Pawlenty, who will preside over the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota, gave McCain more than just one lift when he drove McCain to the reception. Pawlenty told an interviewer that he would endorse McCain if the Senator decided to run, which as a man who might get some attention as a VP candidate makes an interesting start to the campaign season.

This appears to be part aggression and part anxiety arising from Romney's ascendancy as a candidate. McCain could have been pardoned for feeling that he would represent the conservatives in the race, but clearly Romney has created a lot of excitement on the Right. As Adam Nagourney notes, Romney has built a lot of credibility with Republican governors due to his efforts in the midterms to help them campaign for office, and his high-wire act in winning two terms as Governor in Massachussetts has some believing that he can attract the independents and the centrists that left the GOP in the midterms.

McCain just served notice (and a lot of shrimp and booze) that he will fight for the nomination anywhere and anytime. He could have ceded this ground to Romney, especially since some of his own allies tried to paint the Governor as exploiting the RGA for his presidential ambitions. Instead, he charged into opposition territory and made sure that he matched Mitt step for step -- and even walked away with an important endorsement and possibly a running mate. McCain will be tough to discourage in 2008.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 1, 2006 5:03 AM

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