WASHINGTON (AP) - The three-day winter meeting of the National Governors Association provides ambitious state executives an opportunity to improve their political standing ahead of the 2016 presidential contest. Five things to watch:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's stock as a potential candidate rose after he made several key hires and impressed political observers during a recent Iowa appearance. This weekend he could build on that momentum during private meetings with donors and top Republican operatives. He'll also face more scrutiny from the media and his competitors as someone joining the top tier of GOP White House prospects.
The weekend's events will include ample opportunities for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to court top Republican donors as he tries to build support for an expected campaign. It's an especially sensitive time for Christie, who has been struggling to raise money as he competes with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for establishment support. Christie aides say he has an aggressive schedule of meetings with fellow governors and fundraisers.
ROOM FOR ANOTHER?
The ranks of Republican presidential prospects include lesser-known governors such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. With the first presidential debate just six months away, they'll have an opportunity to prove to the GOP's elite donors and operatives that they can compete with an already packed field.
Republican governors helped drive the lawsuit that has temporarily blocked the Obama administration's plan to shield more than 4 million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation. Congress is locked in a budget standoff over the immigration order, with funding for the Homeland Security Department due to run out Feb. 27. The governors will likely be asked to weigh in on a divisive issue that is loaded with policy and political implications.
The conference features a series of panel discussions, including one on formulating federal education policy "that works for states and students." Common Core standards, which are reviled by many conservatives, have become a key point of difference among the likely Republican presidential contenders. Bush supports them, for example, while Christie appears to have distanced himself from his earlier praise for the standards.