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Reagan's Children: New Republican Leaders Hail from Blue States

The McCain-Palin ticket was a good example, hailing from Arizona and Alaska. Before that there were Bush and Cheney, from deep-red Texas and Wyoming. Still earlier was Bob Dole of Kansas (although his VP, Jack Kemp, was the exception, coming from blue New York), and before that George H.W. Bush of Texas and Dan Quayle of Indiana.

Contrast this with the current crop. Romney, who of course isn't a member of the up-and-coming group but who is the nominee, is from Massachusetts, the most liberal state in the U.S. in terms of its voting record in presidential elections during the last two decades. In addition to Ryan, Scott Walker, another up-and-comer, also is from Wisconsin, a state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988. Chris Christie's New Jersey is almost as blue as Massachusetts, Marco Rubio and Allan West's Florida has a slight Democratic edge, and Susana Martinez's New Mexico is bluish. Nikki Haley is an exception in being from a very red state, South Carolina, and Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana who was slated to appear at the convention but had to cancel because of the hurricane) is from a slightly red one.

Traditionally, conservatives have distrusted Republicans from blue states. The usual path to election for a blue-state Republican has been the RINO road. It seemed to make sense, too, for candidates to think that the way to appeal to the Democrats and independents necessary to win an election in a blue state would be to position oneself only somewhat to the right of the left.

Ronald Reagan, who came from a state that had been seesawing between Republican and Democratic governors at the time he was elected (his term was sandwiched between a Democrat father-and-son team, Pat and Jerry Brown), was unique in many ways. One important element of his specialness was that he presented himself as a conservative rather than a moderate, and yet was able to attract Democrats and moderates. Reagan appealed to voters in his state, and later very successfully at the national level, by being personally compelling while at the same time articulating his conservative beliefs in a clear and convincing manner. That combination was remarkably persuasive.

Reagan was not young when he achieved national prominence. But still, he had no immediate heirs. George H.W. Bush, his vice president, was personally and ideologically quite different. So it is not insignificant that the current crop of conservative leaders-in-the-making were children or young adults during the Reagan years. Unlike those who cut their political teeth before Reagan was president, they didn't think moderation was necessary for success. They saw for themselves that it was possible to stick to conservative principles and yet remain a viable candidate in a state that was not fundamentally conservative, and then to succeed at the national level. In a metaphoric sense, they are Reagan's children.