ALTOONA, Iowa — Governors get things done.
That's the message from state leaders who are considering a White House run as Washington slips deeper into political paralysis.
Ambitious governors long have cast their accomplishments in contrast to the capital's gridlock. But three years from the 2016 election, several governors are trying to grab more of the national spotlight, while Congress earns all-time low approval ratings.
In events Saturday evening in two important early voting states, Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., was trying to highlight that contrast and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was trying to fight that image of the nation's capital.
In the emerging 2016 field, governors with little national recognition are competing with better-known Capitol Hill figures burdened by the baggage of working in Washington.
"We've got to show America we're not just the opposition party, we're the proposition party," Ryan said, suggesting an approach for his party in Congress to an audience at Republican Gov. Terry Branstad's annual birthday fundraiser outside of Des Moines.
Courting voters at a party dinner in New Hampshire at almost the same time, home of the leadoff primary, O'Malley promoted himself as a can-do governor and former Baltimore mayor.
"We took action. We started making things work," he told a room packed with roughly 1,000 Democrats gathered in Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city.
"Enough finger-pointing. Enough obstruction. Enough wasted time," O'Malley continued, criticizing a political environment with "a lot more excuses and ideology than cooperation or action."
At about the same time Saturday, Ryan, the 2012 Republican nominee for vice president, was in Iowa headlining a fundraiser for Branstad.
"We need a governor as president of the United States," Branstad recently told the AP.
But Branstad has praised Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee who was the Republicans' vice presidential nominee, as savvy and hard-working.
"It's obvious we have a common-sense statesman from a neighboring state that's really trying to do the right thing," Branstad told roughly 800 Republican stalwarts.
But Branstad points to only his fellow Republican governors as examples the nation should follow. Branstad, if re-elected, would have a closer look at the GOP field than anyone, as his party's host of the Iowa presidential caucuses.
Last month, days after the partial government shutdown ended in Washington, Branstad introduced U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as "a bright up-and-coming senator" before launching into an harsh criticism of the federal government and promotion of the accomplishments of governors in Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. In each of those states, Republicans also control the legislature.
Ryan was making his first appearance in Iowa since Romney failed to carry the state in the presidential election last year. It was also his first trip to the early-voting state as someone considering a candidacy for president in 2016, and he hinted he'd be back. "Maybe we should come back and do this more often," he said.
While the audience in the packed ballroom dined on barbecued pork and fried chicken, Ryan repeatedly praised Branstad for enacting tax cuts this year with a politically divided legislature.
"And that is an example people in Washington could learn from," Ryan said.
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., scored a resounding re-election victory this month by promoting his success as a can-do governor.
"Under this government, our first job is to get the job done. And as long as I am governor, that job will always, always be finished," Christie said during his victory speech.
Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., offered a similar message in a speech to state leaders in Washington. "Real reform happens in the states," Walker said, according to prepared remarks from the closed-door speech.
Ryan has his own challenges as an eight-term congressman.
Gallup found this past week that just 9 percent of Americans approve of Congress' job performance, a record-low. The Pew Research Center found in October that just 1 in 5 surveyed said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right most of the time, while 8 in 10 said they only sometimes or never trust it, reflecting near record levels of distrust.
Back in New Hampshire, the state's Democratic Party chairman noted that presidential primary voters on both sides "have an inclination to support governors" over members of Congress.
"Being a governor of a mid-sized state is not a bad place to start when it comes to New Hampshire," Ray Buckley said of O'Malley.4 comments on this story
Aides to O'Malley suggest that he would not seek the Democratic nomination if Hillary Rodham Clinton were to enter the race. But his status as a Washington outsider offers O'Malley a unique argument in a Democratic field whose strongest prospective contenders are capital insiders — Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.
On the Republican sideGov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., hasn't ruled out running. Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., has tried to raise his national profile as leader in a state where unemployment has dropped more than 6 percentage points since he took office in 2011.
Four of the last six presidents have been governors.
AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report. Peoples reported from Manchester, N.H.