WASHINGTON (CNN) - As the nation's Republican governors meet Monday evening for an annual gala here in the nation's capital, this year's two gubernatorial elections and next year's 36 contests top their agenda. Not on the front burner, but already in the front of their minds: the next race for the White House.
Sunday night, the Republican governors joined their Democratic counterparts for a black-tie dinner at the White House. They were back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Monday morning to talk with President Barack Obama about the stimulus package. Some of the Republican governors in attendance may be looking for a lengthier White House stay after the next presidential election.
Among those who may harbor national aspirations is Bobby Jindal. Tomorrow night, the Louisiana governor gives the GOP response following President Obama's prime time address to the nation in front of a joint session of Congress. Jindal, who’s up for re-election in 2011, told Meet the Press Sunday he had no plans beyond that. The 37-year-old Jindal, the nation's first elected governor of Indian descent, is considered a boy wonder by some in the Republican Party, and was seen as a possible running mate for John McCain last summer.
Jindal's one of a number of conservative Republican governors who continues to speak out against portions of the $787 billion stimulus package that the President signed into last last week. "I think there could have been a very different stimulus bill written,"said Jindal, speaking to reporters outside the White House after meeting with the president.
South Carolina's Mark Sanford is another Republican governor who may have his eye on the White House whose criticism of the president’s plan has included a comparison of stimulus job creation goals to “Soviet grain quotas.”
"I think it's a real mistake in a variety of different levels," Sanford said Monday.
But a different tone from two other Republican governors who may want to make a bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Discussing the stimulus, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty says "I don't like the bill but it is now the law." And Florida Gov. Charlie Crist talks in even more bipartisan terms, saying "the stimulus will be a three year roll out, and that's good in my opinion."
Other Republican governors meeting here in Washington who may want to put their hat in the presidential ring include Indiana's Mitch Daniels, Utah's John Huntsman, and Mississippi's Haley Barbour.
“The stimulus bill gave the Republican Party an issue to rally around - the need for fiscal responsibility,” said CNN Political Editor Mark Preston. “Many Republican voters are going to look kindly on the handful of governors who rejected some of the funding in this bill.”
Missing from all the action is a GOP governor who just may be the darling of social conservatives: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate in last year's presidential election, is back home, working with state lawmakers who are in session.
Besides the current crop of governors, keep on eye on Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, two former Republican Governors who made a bid for the GOP nomination in 2008 and may want to take another stab at presidential politics. They'll be in Washington later this week when the annual Conservative Political Action Conference meets, and activists discuss how the Republican Party can take back Congress and win back the White House.
“The race for the GOP nomination began the day after the election,” Preston said. “Every event, including this week’s gathering of Republican governors and the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, should be viewed through a 2012 lens.”