- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

The battle for the nation's governorships is looking like it will end in a nearly even split, with the Democrats poised for a comeback in the industrial Midwest after a decade of Republican rule.
With three weeks to go before the Nov. 5 elections, Democratic candidates are leading in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Republicans are running ahead of their rivals in four Democratic-held states: Alabama, Hawaii, Alaska and New Hampshire.
Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is holding onto a 10-point lead in California, the nation's biggest state, but Republicans look like they will hold onto several major electoral states as well. Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida, Rick Perry of Texas and George E. Pataki of New York are all leading their Democratic opponents.
Republicans are also running surprisingly competitive races in several heavily Democratic states, including Maryland and Massachusetts.
In Maryland, a Democratic stronghold where voters have not elected a Republican governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966, Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is in a statistical dead heat against Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Earlier this year, the Republican Party had little if any hope of being competitive in Maryland against the famous Kennedy name. But Mr. Ehrlich's candidacy caught fire, and last month the Republican Governors Association decided to make it one of their top priorities, promising significant campaign support. The tightness of the race has forced Mrs. Townsend to bring in veteran Democratic strategists to help revive her sagging campaign.
In Massachusetts, Democratic state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien is in a dead heat against Republican businessman Mitt Romney, who ran the winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and is making his second bid for elective office in the state.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1 in the state and control the 12-member congressional delegation. But last week a poll for the Harvard Institute of Politics showed the gubernatorial race dead even, with 17 percent of voters undecided. Notably, when the poll asked voters, "Which would be a strong leader?" 48 percent chose Mr. Romney versus 34 percent who picked Mrs. O'Brien.
Nationally, the Republicans hold 27 governorships to the Democrats' 21. The remaining states, Minnesota and Maine, are governed by independents.
But the Democrats have more opportunities to pick up governorships this year, because 23 of the 36 seats up for grabs are held by Republicans. Making things harder for the Republicans, 11 of the 23 contests are open races where incumbents are not seeking re-election.
Republican strategists expect to lose statehouses this time around, but predict they may end up controlling about half of all governorships when the votes are counted.
In Michigan, where Republican Gov. John Engler is limited to two terms, Democratic Attorney General Jennifer Granholm has a wide lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, who trails her 41 percent to 53 percent. Mrs. Granholm would be the state's first female governor.
In Illinois, Democratic Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich was leading Republican Attorney General Jim Ryan by 51 percent to 35 percent. The state has not elected a Democratic governor since 1972. Mr. Ryan has been hurt by a divided party and by having the same last name as retiring Republican Gov. George H. Ryan, who chose not to seek re-election after a licensing-bribery scandal tarred his administration.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson served a record 14 years in office and is credited with rebuilding the state Republican Party. But when he stepped down to become the secretary of Health and Human Services, his Republican successor, Gov. Scott McCallum, was hit by the state's fiscal crisis. He has been dogged by low polls ever since and is now running 9 points behind Democratic Attorney General Jim Doyle.
Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker took over the governor's office when popular Gov. Tom Ridge stepped down to become homeland security adviser in the White House. Then Mr. Schweiker chose not to run, giving Democrats a shot at the seat. Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor who also led the national party under President Clinton, is leading Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher 45 percent to 33 percent among likely voters.
Republicans, however, are also hoping to pick up several Democratic-held governorships that could partially offset their losses elsewhere.
In Alabama, Democratic Gov. Donald Siegelman continues to trail Republican Rep. Bob Riley by a few percentage points, while Alaska Sen. Frank H. Murkowski is the clear favorite to reclaim the state for the Republican Party over Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.
Heavily Democratic Hawaii is also poised for a Republican takeover. Republican Linda Lingle, a former mayor of Maui, came within 5,000 votes of winning the governorship in 1998 and today holds a clear lead over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.
In New Hampshire, Democrats nominated state Sen. Mark Fernald to be their gubernatorial candidate. He is running on a platform to enact a state income tax in a state famous for its hostility to taxes. Mr. Fernald is opposed by Republican businessman Craig Benson, who now leads the race 52 percent to 38 percent.

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