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Two Republican governors -- New Jersey's Chris Christie and Wisconsin's Scott Walker -- have made news by taking on tough issues in their states, including confronting labor unions and employee pensions that have contributed to crippling their state's economies.
But while both have become heroes to national conservatives, it is interesting to note that both were arguably the more "moderate" candidate in their respective GOP primaries.
Christie's opponent, former Bogata Mayor Steve Lonegan, was clearly positioned to the right of Christie in the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial primary, and even continued criticizing him after Christie's election.
The ideological contrast in Wisconsin's gubernatorial primary was much less stark, but former Rep. Mark Neumann (who stood up against big-government Republican leadership plans while in Congress) was clearly the outsider -- while the state and national GOP establishment rallied around Walker.
So why have these particular leaders risen to the occasion? There are several theories, but no single answer that's clear to me.
Perhaps the problems confronting these states are so obvious that the need for leadership and boldness trump any ideological daylight between reasonably conservative candidates. Maybe the tea party zeitgeist is powerful enough to provide additional courage for GOP leaders. Or maybe there is a real disconnect between those who wear their conservatism on their sleeves versus those who can actually implement it legislatively.
That theory might help explain why Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has decided to duck the labor fight.
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