- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002


The biggest obstacle that Republicans face in this year's governors races is their past success.
Their numbers tell the story: Of 36 governorships up in November, Republicans hold 23 of them.
Many of the Republican-held seats are in heavily Democratic states in the Northeast and Midwest that have been under Republican control for a decade or more, but where labor unions remain strong.
Democratic voters are plentiful, and some of the Republican Party's most popular governors are not running for re-election. Of the 20 open seats up for grabs, 12 are being vacated by Republicans.
That's why the Democrats are expected to make net gains in governorships in November, a claim the Republicans no longer dispute.
But the Republican Party also is poised to pick up from four to six Democrat-held statehouses, and thus hopes to keep the net loss to a minimum.
Republicans now hold 27 of the 50 governorships, including all of the major electoral states except California. Democrats have 21. Two states are governed by independents: Minnesota and Maine.
"With so many seats to defend, we might go down a couple," said Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "The Democrats are predicting big numbers, but I don't see that happening.
"Regardless of whether we end up with 25 or 26 Republican governors, if we hold on to our big states and win a couple of big ones, that's going to be a good foundation for 2004," Mr. Rowland said.
Democrats are more optimistic.
"We expect that in the end Democrats will win as many as four to seven seats. That will give us anywhere from an even split in governorships or a one- to two-seat advantage over the Republicans," said Ramona Oliver, director of communications for the Democratic Governors Association.
Republicans are in a strong position to pick up Democrat-held governorships in Alaska, Alabama and Hawaii. They are competitive in four other states controlled by Democrats Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Vermont that are either leaning Republican or tossups.
But Democrats are leading in four of the biggest electoral battleground states that the Republicans have held for years and that will be pivotal in the 2004 presidential election: Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
"The fact that all of these states, with the exception of Wisconsin, do not have incumbents, creates a more even playing field and a better opportunity for Democratic challengers," Ms. Oliver said.
"We've held on to these states for many, many years, and there is a natural tendency to call for a time to change. We have a bigger challenge this cycle than our friends in the Democratic Party," said Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Elsewhere, however, Democratic campaigns have run into unexpected trouble.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, got off to a shaky start against Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who picked a black party activist to be his running mate and is making a strong bid for black votes.
Many black voters complain that Mrs. Townsend has taken them for granted, and polls show that she is losing some black support in heavily Democratic Baltimore as the race tightens. A poll by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications shows her lead shrinking to 47 percent to 43 percent.
"The question there is, is Townsend ready for prime time? Now that she's on her own, the voters are seeing a person all but anointed as the next governor and finding her lacking. The Kennedy name just gets you so far," Mr. Owens said.
Massachusetts Democrats hoped that this was the year when they would break the Republican Party's 12-year-old hold on the governorship.
But their concerted efforts this summer to get Republican businessman Mitt Romney thrown off the ballot in a residency dispute backfired and Mr. Romney's approval ratings surged. He now leads all his Democratic rivals, who are locked in a bitter battle for their party's nomination that will be decided Sept. 17.
California, the biggest electoral state, still leans Democratic but Gov. Gray Davis, seeking a second term, remains unpopular. An end-of-July Field Poll found that 51 percent of likely voters disapproved of the job he is doing.
An independent media poll at the end of July showed Republican businessman William Simon leading Mr. Davis by two points. But that was before a jury ruled against the Simon family's investment firm in an investor fraud suit and growing media attention over his refusal to release tax records, which sent his poll numbers into a nose dive.
President Bush yesterday ended a two-day swing in California that helped to raise $2.6 million for Mr. Simon's campaign. The president made a low-key pitch to California voters to elect the conservative businessman.
Despite the polls and Mr. Davis' huge fund-raising advantage, California's weakened economy, a skyrocketing deficit and the governor's high unfavorables combine to keep this race competitive.
Republican incumbents are leading in some major electoral states from New York to Texas.
In New York, Gov. George E. Pataki outfoxed the Democrats by engineering several big labor endorsements and holds wide, double-digit leads over his two Democratic rivals for a third term.
In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, leads his likely Democratic challenger, former Attorney General Janet Reno who is vehemently opposed by the state's Cuban-American community by 20 points. Although Democrats targeted the state in the aftermath of the bitter electoral vote dispute in the 2000 presidential election, Mr. Bush appears to be cruising toward a second term.
In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush when he became president, continues to lead Democrat Tony Sanchez, a successful businessman who is financing a massive, multimillion-dollar ad campaign against Mr. Perry out of his own personal fortune. He has spent $31 million since June.
Mr. Sanchez, a political novice, is running about 10 points behind in a state that leans heavily Republican, but his wealth and Hispanic heritage make him a formidable opponent. Still, Mr. Perry has the active support of the president, who has raised nearly $2 million for his campaign so far.
Both sides agree that the big battlegrounds in the fall will be the three key Midwestern states Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois where Democrats see their best opportunities to make gains.
Republicans say Wisconsin is their most vulnerable state. When Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson left office to become secretary of health and human services after 14 years in the statehouse, Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum took over.
But the state is running a $1 billion deficit, and the latest polls show that only 30 percent of voters support Mr. McCallum. Four Democrats are vying to challenge him, including state Attorney General Jim Doyle, who remains the front-runner.
In Michigan, where Republican Gov. John Engler is finishing his third term, Democrat state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm faces Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Postumous, who is running behind in the polls, though the race has tightened lately.
And in Illinois, where Republicans have controlled the governorship since 1976, Republican state Attorney General Jim Ryan is considered the underdog against Democratic Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich, who is benefiting from public anger over the Republican Party's "bribes for licenses" scandal.

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