- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002


Democrats were headed toward regaining a majority of governors' offices yesterday as they broke a 25-year Republican hold on Illinois and took back Pennsylvania.

The GOP, however, won the night's two marquee races. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush turned back a massive Democratic effort to unseat him, and a Republican ended Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's bid for Maryland governor.

As 36 states elected governors, Democrats captured offices in Michigan, Kansas, New Mexico and Tennessee. The victories boosted Democrats' hopes of reclaiming the majority of executive mansions they lost eight years ago. Republicans hoped to minimize the shrinking of their 27-21 edge.

Republicans kept New York, Texas, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Gov. Bush in Florida had extensive campaign help from his brother. Early in the night, President Bush called to "congratulate him for a big victory," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Mrs. Townsend, a Democrat, was seeking to become the first member of the Kennedy family to serve as a governor. But she saw a huge lead early in the campaign evaporate as she lost to Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

In Illinois, Democratic Rep. Rod Blagojevich defeated Republican Jim Ryan in a race that linked Mr. Ryan to the scandal-tainted single term of Republican Gov. George Ryan no relation who chose not to seek re-election.

Pennsylvania Democrat Edward G. Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, defeated Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher.

Republican businessman Mitt Romney defeated state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien in heavily Democratic Massachusetts to continue 12 years of Republican control.

New York Gov. George E. Pataki easily turned back a challenge from Comptroller H. Carl McCall, the only black person ever elected to statewide office there.

In New Hampshire, Republican entrepreneur Craig Benson returned the governor's office to the Republican Party after six years of Democratic control.

Incumbent Republican Govs. Bob Taft of Ohio, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Bill Owens of Colorado, Gov. Kenny Guinn of Nevada and John G. Rowland of Connecticut all won re-election.

Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was in a tight race with Republican Rep. Bob Riley. Republicans saw Mr. Siegelman as vulnerable because of ethics scandals and budget shortfalls.

Early returns also showed a close race in Vermont, where the Republican-led General Assembly would choose the next governor if no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote, which was a possibility.

The Republicans came into Election Day at a disadvantage, defending 23 of the 36 seats because of term limits and retirements amid painful budget shortfalls. Democrats were defending 11 seats, and independents were leaving office in Maine and Minnesota.

Ten female candidates battled onto the ballot this year from major parties, making it possible for voters to break the record number of five female governors.

The losses of Mrs. Townsend and Mrs. O'Brien hurt those chances, though Democrat Kathleen Sebelius won in Kansas and Hawaii was guaranteed to elect its first female governor: both major-party candidates were women.

More than in any recent year, this election brought a sweeping number of close races, including surprisingly competitive campaigns in Arkansas and Wyoming.

"What you're seeing is the end of the Newt Gingrich class," said outgoing Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, referring to the congressman who led the 1994 Republican victories halfway through former President Bill Clinton's first term.

"Clearly, there is a major implication for the presidential election in 2004," he said, noting that the governor's party usually has an edge in carrying a state during a presidential year, although that would be less true with an incumbent president on the ticket.

Republicans had dismissed Democrats' expectations, noting that Republican candidates led comfortably in Texas and New York, and said they expected Mr. Bush to win in Florida.

"Quality is more important than quantity," said Mr. Rowland, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "What matters is how we look going into '04."

Most political observers said this year's races came down to two things: timing and a bad economy. Incumbents, and those tied to incumbents, usually suffer when budgets get cut and money runs short.

"Whoever's in control of the state is having trouble holding onto the state," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.

With Republicans holding more offices, they will lose more, she said.

Democratic governors went into 1994 with 29 states to Republicans' 20; the elections reversed that, with Republicans in 30 governors' offices and Democrats in 19.

Last year Democratic governors won in New Jersey and Virginia, leaving Republicans holding 27 seats and Democrats holding 21, with two independent governors.

The party with a majority of governors holds a prominent platform for presidential politics and domestic policies, like the Republicans' successful push for welfare reform in the 1990s.

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