Parties warm up for conventions at governors’ meeting

SEATTLE – Politics undermined efforts to find common ground as the nation’s governors gathered Saturday for their summer meeting, with Democrats criticizing domestic security and the economy and Republicans defending President Bush.

In a warm-up for the looming national conventions, governors tried out their respective parties’ election promises and accusations as the National Governors Association began three days of meetings.

“The American people are not satisfied with where the economy is. They think we can do better,” said Democrat Tom Vilsack of Iowa. “The Bush administration has no specific plan to make us do better.”

He and fellow Democratic governors went through a litany of what they called the administration’s failures on homeland security, trade policy, economic development, stem cell research and deficit spending.

Republicans labeled the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential campaign the “misery and pessimism tour,” in the words of Mark Racicot, the former Montana governor and Bush-Cheney campaign chairman. They warned that the Democratic candidates would deliver higher taxes and slower growth, and repeatedly labeled Kerry a flip-flopper.

Bush’s tax cuts and trade policy have blossomed with new job growth and optimism among consumers and businesses, said Republican Bob Taft of Ohio. “It’s the president’s leadership, I believe, that’s really turning our economy around,” he said.

About a block-and-a-half away from the hotel where the governors met, hundreds of demonstrators marched and rallied to protest the Iraq war, show support for unions and call for more help for disabled people. Scores of police and street barricades separated them from the conference, where lobbyists hobnobbed with state and national politicians.

Governors focused all their attention on the presidential race, although 11 governors’ races will be decided in November, including hotly contested seats in Washington state, Indiana and Missouri.

As the latest polls show an extremely tight presidential race among likely voters, Republicans and Democrats refined their messages on the economy and the war in Iraq, two volatile issues that are sure to be critical.

The national meetings of the governors association always bring a level of tension between partisan sympathies and efforts to build consensus. Over the next few days, the state leaders aim to focus their attention on elderly care, economic development and health care.

They’ll meet behind closed doors with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. The governors also will discuss globalization and state competitiveness, environmental policy and education.

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