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 Assn. 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.
Some Democratic governors said recent economic improvements they'd seen stemmed from state-driven efforts, not the Bush administration.
"States have had to go it alone," said Democrat Gary Locke of Washington.
With recent polls showing more doubting the wisdom of war in Iraq, Republicans emphasized Bush's ability to make a decision and stick with it.
"People are going to say, 'I want a president I can trust,"' said Republican Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. "What impresses me most is his resolve."