By Jill Colvin, Associated Press
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been elected as the next chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
The second term governor will take the reins from New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who has been on a victory lap at the group’s annual meeting in Florida this week after Republicans did especially well in the midterm elections.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will be vice chair of the organization, the group also announced.
Haslam will have big shoes to fill. The group raised more than $100 million during Christie’s tenure, setting a record and helping the potential 2016 candidate lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign.
In a statement, Christie praised Haslam as “a strong leader among leaders.” Haslam “emerged as a true pioneer when he took office, and his commanding victory this past election shows that his reform-driven approach is working for Tennessee,” Christie said.
Haslam told reporters before the vote that he was “interested and willing to serve if elected” chairman — a position it seemed nobody had wanted to fill.
Several more high-profile candidates, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, took their names out of the running as they consider potential presidential runs.
And with only three governor’s races on the calendar in 2015, the position is less of a platform than in busier years.
Christie said after the vote that he’d asked Haslam last week if he would consider taking the job and then recommended the pick to his fellow governors, who voted unanimously in favor.
“I’m gratified that they accepted my suggestions and I’m thrilled that Bill’s the guy,” said Christie, who added that he was ready to pass the baton. “I’ll kind of miss it, actually. I enjoyed it. But I’ve had enough.”
Haslam told reporters that, if elected, he hoped to maintain the RGA’s momentum after Republicans scored a series of unexpected wins this cycle, including the governors’ mansions in Maryland and Massachusetts.
His focus, he said, would be on raising money, finding quality candidates and making sure the RGA continues to be a place where Republicans can gather to share ideas.
Haslam is known to be far more soft-spoken and mild-mannered than his predecessor and has been described as the “anti-Christie,” a contrast he embraced.
“Obviously we’re different personalities, different leadership style. But I have a great appreciation for what he’s done,” Haslam said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose state will hold one the three elections next year, said part of what set Haslam apart was his focus on policy.
“He’s obviously been a very successful governor, but he’s also a very thoughtful, policy-oriented guy,” Jindal said. “I think he’s going to do a fantastic job.”