- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

Republican gubernatorial candidates are leading in California, Illinois and Massachusetts key states that Democrats hope to win though Republican campaign officials say they still expect to lose several governorships in November.
In California, investment banker William Simon Jr., who stunned the political pros by beating former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in the Republican Party's March 6 primary, is running slightly ahead of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in early voter surveys.
Campaigning on education, the economy and quality-of-life issues, the conservative Mr. Simon is still not well known in the state, but his candidacy has been fueled by strong voter dissatisfaction with Mr. Davis. The Los Angeles Times exit polling on the day of the March 6 primary found that nearly two-thirds of independent voters and fully one third of Democratic voters disapproved of the job he is doing. His overall job disapproval rate is 59 percent.
In Illinois, where Republicans have held the governorship for 26 straight years, state Attorney General Jim Ryan emerged from last week's Republican primary with a slight 5 point lead over the Democratic nominee, Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich. Mr. Ryan was pronounced the "early favorite" by the Chicago Sun-Times Friday.
And in Massachusetts, Democrats believed they had their best shot to win back the statehouse against Republican Acting Gov. Jane Swift, whose poll numbers were plummeting. But their hopes suffered a setback last week when Mrs. Swift unexpectedly withdrew from the race after Republican businessman Mitt Romney, president of the Winter Olympics organizing committee, announced his candidacy. Mr. Romney, who has run statewide before, presently leads all five of his potential Democratic rivals by substantial margins.
The developments in these three races buoyed Republican officials last week, but they candidly concede that their overall prospects are not so good this year. Some Republican officials say privately that they will experience a net loss in governorships this year.
"Our goal is to obviously maintain our numbers. But in a very realistic sense we think we can mantain a majority. We will lose some seats that are currently in Republican hands, but we will win some seats that are currently held by Democrats," said Clinton Key, executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
Republicans who dominated most of the major governorships throughout the 1990s have to some degree become victims of their own successes. They entered the year controlling 27 statehouses compared with 21 for the Democrats. Two states are governed by independents, Maine's Angus S. King Jr. and Minnesota's Jesse Ventura.
Over the past decade, Republicans have held governorships throughout the Midwest and the Northeast that was once the undisputed political domain of the Democrats. At the end of the 1990s, California was the only major electoral state that did not have a Republican governor.
But many of the Republican Party's strongest governors and brightest stars in the Midwest and Northeast have either taken positions in the Bush administration, retired or reached their term limit, giving the Democrats many more openings for possible takeovers.
Of the 36 governorships up for election this year, 23 of them are held by Republicans. Only 11 Democratic seats are up for grabs. In the two independent governorships, Maine is an open race and Mr. Ventura is seeking reelection.
"Republicans are on the defensive because of the fact that they have to defend more seats than we do, so they are starting off at a disadvantage," said Ramona Oliver, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association.
She acknowledges Mr. Romney's early advantage in Massachusetts. "Yes, he is going to be a tougher candidate than Jane Swift. I think everyone knows that," she said.
As for the early Republican leads in California and Illinois, she said, "we are more than eight months out, so predicting outcomes is probably somewhat frivolous at this point."
Republicans are facing difficult tossup races in Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Arizona, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Democrats say that their toughest contests include Alaska, Alabama, New Hampshire and Hawaii.
Republicans have clear advantages in New York, Florida,Texas and Ohio. Democrats appear safe in Iowa, Maryland and Georgia.
Four Cabinet secretaries from the Clinton administration are running for governor: former Attorney General Janet Reno in Florida, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo in New York, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in New Mexico and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in Massachusetts.
Notably, few of them have been promoting their work in the Clinton administration, and thus far, none has invited former President Clinton for help campaigning. Even Mr. Cuomo, in a state that Mr. Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, call home, offers no photos of the former president on his campaign Web site. The site is sprinkled with pictures of other political supporters from Al Gore to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
Among the four Clinton Cabinet members, only Mr. Richardson is considered the favorite at this point in the election.

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