Republican leaders are eager to get to race against Obama

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The ongoing race for the Republican presidential nomination appears to be causing heartburn among some party leaders who are eager to start taking on a president who has begun to feel the political benefit of a rehabilitating economy and a divisive GOP primary process.

"I definitely would like to see it finished before the convention. I think it is a good thing for the Republican Party to line up behind one candidate," Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nevada, said as a meeting of the nation's governors was getting underway here Saturday.

Sandoval also said that the 20 primary debates will help get his party's eventual nominee battle tested for the fall, but that the negative campaigning among the candidates provides helpful material to President Obama's reelection efforts.

"I think it is going to be healthy and strong for somebody to emerge so that they can start contrasting themselves with the president," he added.

"It would be better for our general election prospects if more time and focus was on Obama's policies and the failures of those policies," said former Mississippi Governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour.

"There's still time for that. But, would it improve our prospects earlier, more greatly if this was going on now? Of course, it would."

Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Indiana, who once again said there was no chance he would reconsider his decision to forgo a presidential campaign, said a shorter nomination process would better serve the party in the future.

"I don't know anyone who thinks it is optimal," Daniels said of the process in which the candidates are currently engaged. "It's inevitable, at least temporarily, that they will get all chewed up and dinged up by the way we've chosen to do this," he added before expressing optimism that things can change swiftly when a nominee emerges.

Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Penn., also said it would certainly be helpful for his party to begin a one-on-one debate with President Obama sooner rather than later. Bowing to the reality that it still may be a while before a presumptive nominee emerges, Corbett urged the presidential contenders to keep the conversation on the most pressing issue on the minds of the voters.

"I'd like to see the candidates focusing much more from here on out on the economy," Corbett said.

In recent weeks the dominant conversation in the campaign has centered around social issues such as contraception and abortion, causing concern among some Republicans that critical independent voters, who are less likely to be motivated by those issues, may turn away from the party.

"The problem that I would worry about is that our side might not offer a bold enough, specific enough, constructive enough, and I would say inclusive enough alternative to America," Daniels said.

Only a handful of Republican governors have chosen sides in the volatile presidential race. The vast majority of them appear content to avoid navigating the tricky politics of competing interests that inevitably come with an endorsement.

"I'm ready for it to be over tomorrow," said Romney backer Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Virginia who endorsed last month. "I would love for Mitt to have this thing done on Super Tuesday. There is a path for Super Tuesday or shortly after. If he wins Michigan and Arizona has a good Super Tuesday, I think there's a path to it being over or close to over, but the people have to decide."

Of course, a rapid conclusion to the GOP contest looks somewhat unlikely at the moment. Gov. Daniels said one of the reasons he is not planning to make an endorsement in the race is because he believes the competition could still be in full swing by the time the Indiana primary rolls around in early May and he'd like to be a good host to all the candidates.

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