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With eye on horizon, governors build their national brands

Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Barack Obama, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (center) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, talk as they look over the 9/11 Memorial in New York.

An annual speech by a Northeastern governor focusing entirely on disaster recovery efforts wouldn't normally make national news.

But when that governor is a possible presidential contender, a symbol of Republican infighting and the proud owner of a sterling 73 percent state-wide approval rating, it's a different story. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is one of several governors whose rumored presidential ambitions offer a larger national platform for annual "State of the State" speeches that can contain hints of their policy ideals, political goals and personalities.

Republicans Christie, Virginia's Bob McDonnell, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, and Wisconsin's Scott Walker have all been discussed as future GOP standard bearers. Democrats Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York are also thought to be eyeing national office.

From policies to address economic concerns to commentary on Washington political culture, those who have delivered their State of the Union equivalents have offered glimpses of their governing style, as well as the challenges facing them in their current jobs. 

In his State of the State address Tuesday, Christie suggested little in the way of new proposals, but touted his own record as a reformer and offered a rhetorical pep rally for a state battered by last year's superstorm Sandy.

Mel Evans / AP

The N.J. politician's straight-talk and tough policies put him in the national spotlight — but after considering a presidential bid, the governor decided he wasn't ready.

"Despite the challenges that Sandy presented our economy, I will not let New Jersey go back to our old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes," he said. "We will deal with our problems but we will continue to do so by protecting the hard earned money of all New Jerseyans first and foremost. "

Christie, who is preparing his own re-election bid in New Jersey, pointedly thanked his Democratic colleagues in the heavily blue state. 

"Maybe the folks in Washington, in both parties, could learn something from our record here," he said.

The relative lack of controversy from the famously blunt Christie Tuesday contrasted with neighboring state head and possible Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo. 

Cuomo, a popular New York governor and formidable fundraiser, grabbed headlines for his Wednesday afternoon address, during which he proposed a specific new gun policy that would "enact the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation, period."

The outspoken governor dismissed critics who say an assault weapons ban would infringe on the rights of sportsmen and women --an argument echoed at the federal level as the Obama administration weighs gun control measures. 

"I say to you, forget the extremists," Cuomo declared loudly. "It's simple. No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. And too many innocent people have died already."

His address included a laundry list of policy measures that thrill the Democratic base, including election funding reform, climate control measures, the passage of a women's equality act and fortified abortion rights legislation.

"Because it's her body, it's her choice!" Cuomo repeated three times to applause from the crowd 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls for closing loopholes on a state ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 bullets, during his State of the State speech.

Virginia's McDonnell, whose fast-growing state suffers from a dearth of transportation funds, used part of his remarks to outline plans to overhaul the way roads and bridges are paid for by taxpayers.

The plan would eliminate an existing gas tax -- which is based on overall gasoline volume rather than price at the pump --  in favor of a sales tax hike to help fill Virginia's yawning transportation funding gap.

By tying the transportation funds to sales, the logic goes, the pool of funds for construction and maintenance will grow with the state's economy. But it risks complaint from some in the national Republican base who object to tax increases of any kind. 

The Virginia governor also echoed the rhetoric of national Republicans by underscoring his efforts to make "government live within its means."

And, like Christie, the Virginia governor poked fun at the federal city no more than a few hours' drive away. McDonnell slammed the lack of "bipartisan consensus" in Washington, saying that Capitol Hill is seized by "dysfunctional governing paralysis."

"In Washington, we see debt, taxes, delays, blame, and dysfunction. Here in Virginia we see results, solutions, job growth, surpluses, and cooperation," he said. "What a difference 100 miles makes."