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GOP governors dodge shutdown battle

Governor Chris Christie speaks during an announcement event about more funding to the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, September 3, 2013.
Governor Chris Christie speaks during an announcement event about more funding to the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, September 3, 2013.Carlo Allegri / REUTERS

Washington Republicans are getting little help from their friends in governor’s mansions across the country.

GOP governors aren’t urging John Boehner to stand strong: they’re calling for an end to the stalemate or ducking the shutdown issue entirely. That’s the same strategy that Republican presidential hopefuls and lawmakers in tough 2014 races are following.

As the shutdown goes on, the collateral damage will grow–along with voter anger at the GOP. Polls show that Americans blame the Republicans more than the Democrats or President Obama for causing the crisis.

Republican governors are dutifully taking shots at Obama and not explicitly blaming House Republicans, but they aren’t giving Boehner or GOP leaders what they really need: political cover.

Instead, they’re making sure to convey that–unlike DC’s dysfunction–they work across party lines to run their own states.

Case in point, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “While there’s blame to go around for the Republicans in the House for not coming to consensus even amongst themselves … and the Democrats in the Senate for not looking for ways to try to compromise with the Republicans in the House, there’s also blame that goes onto the president as well,” Christie said this week.

And it’s not just moderate Republicans. Even conservatives are pushing their party to get the government going.

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, who has accepted the law’s controversial Medicaid expansion, urged Republicans to stop fighting over Obamacare and move on.

“I think that [Obamacare is] pretty much carved in stone, the direction of where Obama health care is going,” Brewer said this week. “And I believe [Hill Republicans] need to get us a budget or a continuing resolution, and we need to get America, the United States back on track,”  she said.

Busy with the messy job of actually running a state, governors are less interested in holding a hard line than in having a working federal government.

One would-be GOP governor is already feeling the pain–and the squeeze. Ken Cuccinelli is running in Virginia, a state with 170,000 federal employees, many of them now furloughed. Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite, is scheduled to appear at a dinner in Richmond on Saturday with fellow guest Senator Ted Cruz, but said in a recent debate that he doesn’t support the shutdown. ”I’d like to see Obamacare pulled out of the federal law, but we’ve got to keep moving forward and make compromises to get a budget.”

On Monday night after the standstill was made official, Cuccinelli blamed not just Obama but “both parties in Congress.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, in a briefing with NBC on Wednesday, lambasted Obama’s lack of leadership and avoided criticizing the House GOP, saying he wasn’t “interested in Republican disunity or fratricide.”

Still, he praised the Republicans in mansions more than the ones on the Hill. “Our governors in every state capitol work with legislators across party lines–we don’t always agree with them, but we find ways to reach common ground and move our states forward.”

Jindal is chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association. He’s promoting the RGA’s new video and online campaign, “American Comeback”–which uses the tagline, “Republican governors are driving America’s comeback.”

Jindal said the campaign hadn’t been timed to the shutdown, but conceded that the crisis provided the governors with a good “contrast.”

“We’re done outsourcing our brand management to Washington, D.C,”  he said. “We’re done as governors letting the dysfunction of Washington define conservative principles and ideas. The reality is there is one place you can look to see conservative ideas and principles being applied, and that’s in our state capitols.”