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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

A choice, not an echo

SOME critics think the President's State of the Union message has become too much an exercise in pomp and pageantry, devoid of substance - all that one-upmanship, stand-up applause, and so forth. In any case the Democrats decided to respond with a low-key fireside chat by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the second consecutive member of his party to win the governorship of Virginia, a state generally found in the red column. Seems like a smooth move.

In what may be an omen of things to come, Governor Kaine dispensed with ruffles and flourishes, instead criticizing President Bush mainly on grounds of "poor choices and bad management," which, he said, adversely affected families on the Gulf Coast trying to rebuild their homes, workers thrown out of their jobs seeking new careers, and American servicemen in Iraq trying to "rebuild a nation."

Republicans won the last election on the basis of the incumbent's handling of the terrorism issue, but as Mr. Kaine reminded his listeners: While the images of the World Trade Center are seared in the minds of Americans, "so too are the memories of those who died on sacred ground in Virginia in the attack on the Pentagon."

Members of Congress have played an important role in recent national elections, but it should be remembered that governors have generally been prominent players in presidential election contests. As the Bush Administration wrestles with messy problems in Iraq and a quagmire of national deficit spending, to say nothing of GOP-centered scandals at the state and national levels, voters may respond favorably to some of the new voices emerging in statehouses across the land.

They may be Democrats or Republicans, but in a federal capital virtually gridlocked by partisan feuding, 2008 could again be the year of the governor. And, looking at their biographies, appropriate age levels, and excluding two who were not born in this country, there are two or three dozen state chief executives who might well be attractive favorite sons or dark horses, and, under the current circumstances, have lived and worked far enough away from Washington.

Anyway, Josiah Bartlet, star character of the hit television show, The West Wing (who was portrayed as a former governor) is in his last year or his last season, however you choose to view him.

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