Fiscal issues dominate governor races
By John Mercurio
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the White House and Congress move steadily toward a war with Iraq, the nations gubernatorial races seem largely immune from the debate.
For the first time in nearly a decade, governors races are dominated largely by widespread budget shortfalls and discouraging fiscal forecasts. Economic problems are hurting Democrats running in Iowa, California, Alabama and Maryland; Republicans are distancing themselves from money problems in Tennessee, Kansas and Michigan.
In all, voters will chose governors in 36 states -- 23 held by Republicans, 11 by Democrats. Republicans currently hold 27 governors' offices, including four of the nation's five largest states. There are 21 Democratic governors, while independents hold executive offices in Maine and Minnesota. Six Democrats, 12 Republicans and both independents are retiring this year, offering Democrats a decisive edge among open seats.
The following is CNN's state-by-state analysis of key gubernatorial races to date:
ALABAMA (Toss-up): Most Democrats acknowledge that Don Siegelman is the most endangered Democratic governor in 2002. Siegelman, a statewide officeholder for most of the past 25 years, who won the governor's office four years ago by knocking off incumbent Gov. Fob James, a Republican, has been dogged over the past two years by charges of cronyism, a gloomy economy and a stagnant schools crisis.
Alabama Republicans also nominated an attractive candidate, three-term Rep. Bob Riley, a staunch conservative who has nonetheless won over a traditional Democratic constituency in his House district with a folksy appeal. While Riley was forced to empty his campaign coffers in a costly three-way primary in June, President Bush came to the rescue this summer, traveling to Birmingham and raising a whopping $4 million for his party's candidate.
Still, Siegelman remains well funded and, to be sure, polls remain tight -- an independent survey released in early September showed Riley narrowly leading Siegelman, 44 to 41 percent, a slightly smaller margin than the Republican enjoyed throughout summer. Democratic criticism of Riley being late paying some property and income taxes late may have hurt his latest poll numbers.
ALASKA (Likely Republican): Alaska is one of the most Republican states in the country, so the state GOP is eager to reclaim the governor's office after eight years under Democrat Tony Knowles. They are well poised to do so with Sen. Frank Murkowski as their nominee. Murkowski faces Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a former state representative and mayor of Juneau, who has been emphasizing her conservative, pro-gun leanings. Recent polls show the race is closer than expected, mostly because Ulmer has run a credible campaign and traveled the state throughout the summer while Murkowski was stuck in Washington. But both parties still predict a GOP pick-up here. If Murkowski wins, it would create an open seat in the closely divided Senate, creating another nail-biting chapter in the ongoing Senate saga.
ARIZONA (Toss-up): Democrats sense an opportunity in Barry Goldwater's home state, aided by the large increase in Hispanic voters and the strength of their gubernatorial nominee, state Attorney General Janet Napolitano. Napolitano, a former U.S. attorney, faces ex-Rep. Matt Salmon. Salmon has led in recent polls, but as one prominent Arizona GOP strategist put it, "don't ever underestimate Matt Salmon's ability to screw this up in the final days." An independent candidate, former Arizona secretary of state Richard Mahoney, is polling in the single digits but could tip the race toward Salmon if it's close.
ARKANSAS (Likely Republican): While Democrats are mounting a strong challenge to Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the state's other top Republican, Gov. Mike Huckabee, should prevail over longtime state Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher, this fall. Recent polling shows him leading by double digits. Fisher, who served on former Gov. Bill Clinton's staff in 1979 and hasn't shied away from campaigning with Clinton this year, has run a decent campaign and has kept the race closer than most analysts had predicted a year ago. But Huckabee remains the favorite.
CALIFORNIA (Leans Democratic): Republican Bill Simon's come-from-behind primary win over Richard Riordan in March made him an overnight darling of conservatives nationwide, many of whom touted him as the next coming of Ronald Reagan. But Simon's challenge to Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, has stalled since then -- partly because of Davis's bruising attacks, but mostly due to the Republican's own political missteps.
On the other hand, Davis remains vulnerable, partly because of Simon's criticism, but mostly because he has failed to connect with the state's mostly Democratic electorate and has mishandled the state's budget crisis. A recent Field Poll showed Davis's support continued to fall below 50 percent and his lead over Simon only 7 points.
Republicans privately fault Simon for mismanaging campaign staff and alienating voters he needs to win over, even within the GOP establishment. Simon received some much-needed good news in early September, however, when a judge threw out a lower court ruling that had found Simon's family's firm, William E. Simon & Sons, had defrauded a business partner. He has sought to build on the bounce he got from the ruling, airing two new ads featuring testimonials from Rudy Giuliani and President Bush, who approved the use of his image in the ad after the court's September 12 ruling.
Still, other problems persist for Simon, who lost precious weeks of campaigning due to the initial court ruling. Party strategists also criticize the way he handled releasing his tax returns this summer and reports that his firm used disputed offshore tax shelters. The list of Simon's woes goes on, making Davis's prospects this fall increasingly secure. Still, voters' apparent lack of affection for Davis means this race is still worth watching.
COLORADO (Safe Republican): Republican Gov. Bill Owens narrowly won his first term, beating then Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler by over 8,000 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast. Still, Owens is now one of the safest governors up for re-election this year. He faces businessman Rollie Heath, the former president of Johns Manville Corp., is now owner of Ponderosa Industries, a small business located north of Denver. Owens led Heath by a stunning 42 points in a recent independent poll.
CONNECTICUT (Likely Republican): Two-term Gov. John Rowland, a Republican, appears headed to a comfortable, if not overwhelming, victory this fall over former state comptroller Bill Curry, the Democrat he beat by just three points in 1994. Polls show the race has shifted in recent months, with the governor's initial 25-point advantage dwindling to a mere 8 or 9 points. Rowland still has the edge, but the race could be close.
FLORIDA (Likely Republican): Tampa attorney Bill McBride scored a major upset when he narrowly beat former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Reno and a third primary candidate, state Sen. Daryl Jones, attended a unity rally after the primary and expressed solidarity behind McBride.
But now comes the hard part -- ousting a relatively popular and well-funded incumbent, Republican Jeb Bush, who also enjoys blood ties to the White House. Democrats waged a remarkably friendly nomination fight. All three candidates read from the same script, hitting Bush for failing schools, a flawed child services agency, after the September 10 primary fiasco, doing little to repair the state's voting system.
Bush hit back swiftly, calling the voting problems in Miami/Dade and Broward counties a "local concern" outside of his control. (Democrats run both localities, furthering distancing Bush from the headache). The race appears to have tightened: Bush, who led McBride by more than 20 points earlier this year, has seen his lead dwindle to low single digits in recent polls.
GEORGIA (Likely Democratic): Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes wielded the redistricting pen with gusto last year, attempting to devastate GOP prospects in state legislative and congressional races this fall. While they vowed to avenge Barnes's sharp partisanship, Republicans failed to recruit a strong gubernatorial candidate, making Barnes one of the safest Democratic governors seeking re-election this year.
Former state Sen. Sonny Perdue won a three-way GOP primary in late August, giving him little time to unite his party and replenish his campaign war chest (Barnes had raised a whopping $11 million by June 30). Perdue distinguished himself in the primary, in part, by producing a video that featured Barnes as a rat named "King Roy." Perdue jumped into the general election race quickly, though, attacking Barnes as an "education failure" amid reports that Georgia ranked last in new SAT scores.
Unlike other southern Democratic governors, however, Barnes has had an extremely successful first term, pushing through a meaty legislative agenda, including property tax cuts, a new regional transportation authority and education reform. Barnes also benefits from history -- unlike every other state in the Deep South, Georgia has never elected a Republican governor.
HAWAII (Leans Republican): Years of economic woes, voter frustration with one-party rule and recruiting setbacks have left Hawaii's dominant Democratic Party with a serious challenge to their 40-year reign.
The Republican poised to benefit from the Democratic disarray is former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle, who came within 5,000 votes of beating term-limited Gov. Ben Cayetano in 1998 and is running with a united GOP behind her this year. The race to succeed Cayetano turned upside down this spring when front runner Jeremy Harris, the Democratic mayor of Honolulu, abruptly quit the race, saying he couldn't win.
That left Democrats with three flawed candidates -- Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, who jumped from the Honolulu mayoral race when Harris quit the gubernatorial contest; state Rep. Ed Case, a cousin of AOL/Time Warner chairman Steve Case; and Andy Anderson, a former Republican. Hirono, who narrowly defeated Case in the September 21 primary, moved quickly to unite her party.
Democrats held a unity breakfast the day after the primary, attended by DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and, perhaps more importantly, Ed Case. But Democrats still face an uphill climb, Lingle leads Hirono by double digits in recent polls.
IDAHO (Safe Republican): Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a former Boise mayor who served one term in the Senate before returning home to run for governor in 1998, is one of the safest governors seeking re-election this year. The Democrats' sacrificial lamb is Idaho Falls Post Register publisher Jerry Brady, the great-grandson of former Idaho Gov. James Brady, a Republican, who served from 1909 to 1911. Brady served in the 1960s as a legislative aide to former Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, and went on to serve as director of public affairs for the Peace Corps. He then returned to Congress were he was staff director for the Joint Economic Committee in the late 1970s.
ILLINOIS (Toss-up): Democrats are poised to break the GOP's lock on the Illinois governor's office this year, and it could all come down to confusion over names. The Republican nominee, state Attorney General Jim Ryan, is not related to unpopular Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, but some voters clearly think he is.
The Democrats don't have that problem -- their nominee is three-term Rep. Rod Blagojevich, who safely bets he's the only person with that surname, at least in Illinois politics. Aided by GOP disarray, state budget problems and recent bickering between the two Ryans, Blagojevich leads by high single digits in recent polls. How bad is the Ryans' bickering?
The outgoing governor recently said Jim Ryan is a "lousy candidate" and has run "probably the worst campaign I've ever seen in the history of the state." Told of the governor's statement, Jim Ryan declared: "He ran the worst administration in the history of Illinois." Ouch.
IOWA (Leans Democratic): Gov. Tom Vilsack, who broke the GOP's 30-year lock on the governor's office in 1998, only recently landed on the list of vulnerable Democratic governors, a shift caused by state economic woes and devastating losses for the state's agriculture industry.
Vilsack, who has had to make seven rounds of budget cuts since he took office in 1999, has watched his approval rating drop below 50 percent in recent polls. Polls now show that more than half of voters say the state is headed in the wrong direction.
The main beneficiary of Vilsack's misfortunes is attorney Doug Gross, the chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who won a crowded GOP primary. Polls show Gross has closed the race into a dead heat, mostly by focusing on the state's looming budget deficit (he projects it will be roughly $1.1 billion) and appealing to the state's generally conservative electorate.
KANSAS (Leans Democratic): Democrats are bracing for the unthinkable in Kansas this fall -- a double-digit win in the state's governor's race. State Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius leads the GOP nominee, state Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, by a solid margin in the latest independent poll. Democrats appear to be benefiting from a long-standing split within the state's GOP between moderates, represented by term-limited Gov. Bill Graves and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, and social conservatives, led by Sen. Sam Brownback. Shallenburger, who reigns from the social conservative wing of his party, did not draw a firm endorsement from Graves until late September, and only then after much public hand-wringing. Sebelius is also a strong candidate in her own right, having proven herself as a strong fundraiser who's comfortable with the state's powerful business community.
MAINE (Leans Democratic): Rep. John Baldacci hopes to reclaim the governor's mansion for the Democrats after eight years under independent Gov. Angus King. Baldacci currently leads former state Rep. Peter Cianchetti by a comfortable margin. (Even an internal Republican poll this summer had Baldacci ahead by 9 points.) Baldacci has served in the House since 1994, representing the state's sprawling 2nd district, a swing seat covering most land outside of Portland's suburbs. In 1992, Cianchetti started his own business, Cianchetti Enterprises, Inc., which owned and operated Initial Staffing Services, a successful employee staffing, recruiting and placement company.
After five years, Peter sold the company and joined Pierce Atwood Consulting, one of the state's top business consulting firms, where he served as executive vice president. Because this is Maine, both major-party nominees must contend with the candidacies of Green Party candidate Jonathan Carter and independent John Michael, a liberal state representative. Carter could take votes from Baldacci, but Cianchetti will have to come on strong soon if he is to shake up this contest and take advantage of Michael's presence in the race.
MARYLAND (Leans Democratic): Maryland ranks as one of the country's most reliably Democratic states, but voters here are sharply divided in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, who has served for eight years without ever enjoying widespread approval ratings.
Glendening's deputy, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, was supposed to benefit from her party's voter registration edge, her formidable war chest and her famous family name (she's the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy). But Townsend so far has failed to invigorate her party's base.
Her choice of retired Navy Adm. Charles Larson, a former Republican, as her running mate upset black leaders who hoped she would choose an African-American, and she faces a probe into the major crime program that was directly under her supervision. She also under performed in the September 10 primary, losing 20 percent of the vote to a political unknown who spent less than $1,000 on the race (Townsend had spent more than $2.3 million).
Glendening's popularity is at record lows, meaning he'll be of little use to her this fall. Meanwhile, Republicans united strongly behind telegenic Rep. Robert Ehrlich, who appealed directly to black voters by choosing state Republican Chairman Michael Steele, an African-American attorney, as his running mate. Ehrlich received a nice boost with the endorsement of the Maryland State Troopers Association, which was viewed as a slap at Townsend since she has been the head of the state's crime-fighting program.
Ehrlich may have hurt himself, however, by saying he may roll back some gun-control laws, which remain highly popular among voters, especially in the crucial Washington suburbs. Polls show Townsend's support has fallen below 50 percent this summer, and she's now locked in a statistical dead heat. Despite the recent spate of polls, she probably remains a slight favorite, given her party's decisive edge among registered voters.
But this race is moving into the toss-up column. Indeed, the sniper shootings are likely to transform the tenor of this race, presumably in Townsend's favor. It remains to be seen, however, whether she overstepped by running a TV ad criticizing Ehrlich on gun-control amidst the tension surrounding the shootings.
MASSACHUSETTS (Leans Republican): For the fourth time in a row, Massachusetts, a state where Democrats hold lopsided majorities in the state Legislature, most statewide offices and the entire congressional delegation, is poised to elect a Republican to its top job.
Republican fortunes improved dramatically this spring when acting Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican, suffering from plummeting poll numbers and a stifling budget crunch, quit the race and endorsed Mitt Romney, a wealthy businessman and 1994 Senate nominee, who ran the organizing committee for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien defeated three other Democrats in the September 17 primary -- Robert Reich, who served as Labor secretary under former President Clinton; state Senate President Tom Birmingham and former state Sen. Warren Tolman.
Romney leads O'Brien in recent polls by wide margins. Romney so far has left the negative campaigning to his running mate, Kerry Healey, who criticized O'Brien on the day after the September 17 primary for increasing spending in the treasurer's office by 20 percent between 1999 and this past July, and dubbed five O'Brien aides with political ties as patronage hires.
The race could tighten -- to be sure, Former GOP Govs. Paul Celucci and Bill Weld each won their first terms by four points or less. But at this point, Romney looks like a safe bet. Bay State Democrats have been locked out of the governor's office since Michael Dukakis, coming off his defeat in the 1988 presidential race, retired in 1990.
MICHIGAN (Leans Democratic): One of the Democratic Party's best pick-up opportunities lies in Michigan, where Democrat Jennifer Granholm is poised to be the state's first female governor. Granholm, who scored a convincing primary win over two party heavyweights, leads Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, the Republican nominee, by double digits. The win would not be a small feat; Republicans have held the governor's office here for 12 years under John Engler, although the state has shown signs of trending Democratic.
Aided largely by EMILY's List, Granholm scored an impressive win in the Democratic primary, defeating former Gov. James Blanchard, who served as ambassador to Canada under Bill Clinton, and House Minority Whip David Bonior. Republicans criticized Granholm for dithering over her running-mate selection while Posthumus moved deftly to name state Sen. Loren Bennett. They also paint Granholm as inexperienced on budget matters and highlight her history serving in public office in Wayne County, a notoriously unethical locality. But so far the attacks don't seem to be sticking; Granholm remains a solid favorite this fall. Michigan is one place (and Granholm is one candidate) that clearly still feels comfortable inviting Bill Clinton to campaign.
The former president stumped for her September 13. Posthumus struggled this spring with the negative reaction to a remark by Republican National Committee member Chuck Yob of western Michigan. Women, Yob theorized, are best suited to a clerical job such as secretary of state because they "like that kind of work." If she wins, Granholm would be the only female governor of a big state and, consequently, a major political force in Democratic
MINNESOTA (Toss-up): All three candidates in the nation's only competitive three-way gubernatorial race start with roughly one-third of the vote, according to recent polls, although Independence Party nominee Tim Penny, a former Democratic congressman, received far fewer votes in the September 10 primary.
Penny took 39,000 votes, compared with 213,000 for state Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a Democrat, and 199,000 for state House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, a Republican. Still, Penny is a real force, much more so than retiring Gov. Jesse Ventura was at this point in his 1998 campaign.
At first blush, Penny's strength seems like bad news for Moe, who shares a Democratic base with the former congressman. Moe also has increasingly negative ratings. However, Penny, a fiscal conservative who opposes abortion rights and supported NAFTA, might draw some Pawlenty votes as well. With Ventura's popularity hovering at near-dismal levels, don't expect Penny to be campaigning much with him this fall.
NEBRASKA (Solid Republican): First-term Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican, had a relatively quiet first term and remains a popular figure. Consequently, he is not expected to have any trouble being re-elected. Johanns faces Democrat Stormy Dean, the chief financial officer of InfoUSA, who won the May primary. Dean, who in 1998 was elected to the Ralson school board (he's now the president). One of Dean's biggest problems has been financial. He had just $9,700 on hand in mid-June, and only had that much because he had loaned his campaign $10,000 for the primary.
NEVADA (Solid Republican): Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican, is seeking a second term and is heavily favored over state Sen. Joe Neal, the first black Nevadan to win a major party nomination for governor. Guinn led Neal by 45 points in a mid-August poll conducted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. Guinn, 64, announced in July that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but doctors said it was in its earliest stages and would not affect his work as governor. Neal has drawn one notable endorsement, from GOP Las Vegas Councilwoman Lynette Boggs McDonald, an African-American Republican, who is challenging Rep. Shelley Berkley in the state's Vegas-based 1st district.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (Likely Republican): The race to succeed Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who's retiring to run for Senate, represents one of the GOP's best pickup opportunities this year. Democrats nominated state Sen. Mark Fernald, who unsuccessfully challenged Shaheen in 2000 in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. But Fernald lags far behind the Republican nominee, Craig Benson, a wealthy businessman who spent an estimated $9 million, the bulk of it his own money, in a bitter and nasty GOP primary against former state Sen. Bruce Keough and former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, the 2000 Republican gubernatorial nominee. Benson is the multimillionaire founder of Cabletron Systems. If nothing else, Benson's wealth gives him a decisive edge in the general-election race.
NEW MEXICO (Likely Democratic): Bill Richardson, a former congressman who served as United Nations ambassador and energy secretary under President Clinton, is the former Clinton administration official with the best chance to win a statewide office next year. (So far, Labor Secretary Robert Reich of Massachusetts, Canadian Ambassador James Blanchard of Michigan, Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo of New York and Attorney General Janet Reno of Florida have lost gubernatorial primaries, and Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles trails badly in the North Carolina Senate race.) Richardson leads state Rep. John Sanchez, the GOP nominee, by double digits in recent polls. Richardson and Sanchez are both Hispanic, meaning that regardless of who wins on November 5, New Mexico will elect a Latino governor this year.
NEW YORK (Likely Republican): Most of the suspense in the Democratic race ended in early September when Andrew Cuomo, the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo and Housing secretary under President Clinton, quit the race and endorsed state Comptroller Carl McCall.
So far little suspense has developed in the general-election race, where McCall still trails Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, by double digits. While the Democrats emptied their war chests fighting each other, Pataki was busy stockpiling funds and now sits on a daunting $23 million coffer, nearly five times as much as McCall has.
Nonetheless, Democrats, including Clinton and his wife Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, expect to invest heavily this fall in McCall, who would be the first African-American governor of New York. Look for this race to tighten, as it already has over the past several weeks. Additionally, Pataki lost the Independence Party ballot line in the September 10 primary to millionaire businessman Tom Golisano, who has vowed to spend generously against the governor this fall.
Nonetheless, Pataki has hewed closely to the middle, and has even ventured to the left on a range of key issues like drug-reform and immigration. He actually runs even with McCall among likely Hispanic voters. Barring some unforeseen development, Pataki is still favored.
OHIO (Likely Republican): Republican Gov. Bob Taft is cruising to a comfortable re-election this year, making Ohio the only midwestern state in which the GOP is likely to hold the governors' office. He led his Democratic challenger, veteran Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan, by 23 points in the latest independent poll. Hagan is also very short on cash. Notably, both of the major-party candidates for lieutenant governor are African-American women (Democrat Charleta Tavares and Republican Jennette Bradley) meaning that Ohio is sure to elect a black woman to the state's No. 2 job this year. Taft is the great-grandson of the late President William Howard Taft.
OKLAHOMA (Safe Republican): Rep. Steve Largent left behind a promising House career to return home, where he instantly became the clear front runner to succeed term-limited Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican. (Notably, Largent's wife, Cathy Keating, lost a bid for Largent's seat in the House last year). Largent faces state Sen. Brad Henry, the Democratic nominee, and former U.S. attorney Gary Richardson. Richardson, who is polling in the mid-teens, ran a TV ad in October criticizing Largent for being on a camping trip on September 11, 2001 while the House was in session. The ad contains footage of Largent scolding a reporter for asking about his 9/11 absence, using a vulgarity to dismiss his question. Nonetheless, Largent remains the heavy favorite in this race.
OREGON (Leans Democratic): Former state Supreme Court Justice Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, is running ahead of former state Rep. Kevin Mannix, a Republican, in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat who backed Kulongoski in the five-way primary. Kulongoski moved to Oregon as a young lawyer in the late 1960s, started his own firm, and in 1974 was elected to a state House seat. He won a state Senate seat in 1978 and established a reputation in the legislature as a champion of organized labor. Kulongoski lost a 1980 Senate race against ex-Sen. Bob Packwood, and a 1982 bid for governor before being appointed state insurance commissioner in 1987 by former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt.
Kulongoski was elected state Attorney General in 1993 and then won a spot on the Supreme Court in 1996. He stepped down last year to enter the Governor's race. Mannix served as a state assistant Attorney General, as an assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Territory of Guam, and as an administrative law judge. He served five terms in the state House and a part of one state Senate term and served as a pro-tem circuit court judge. Mannix lost two races for state Attorney General.
PENNSYLVANIA (Leans Democratic): Pennsylvania has a 40-year tradition of handing the governor's office from one party to the other, whenever the seat opens up. Voters here appear ready to follow that pattern this fall, when Democrat Ed Rendell is favored to beat Republican Mike Fisher. (The seat is open because two-term Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, resigned to become President Bush's homeland security director, and acting Gov. Mark Schweiker declined to run for a full term).
Rendell's election would be unusual on one front, though -- he would be the first Philadelphia mayor elected governor since 1906 and the first Philadelphian since 1914. Polls show Rendell has widened the small lead he enjoyed after the late May primaries; a recent survey showed the Democrat's support over 50 percent, holding a 13-point overall lead and a 22-point lead among women.
Rendell has lost backing from the National Rifle Association, which hailed him during the 1990s for his "courageous leadership." The NRA this year backed his primary rival, state Auditor Robert Casey Jr., and is endorsing Fisher this fall. Republicans clearly hope to paint Rendell as a liberal and regional candidate with limited appeal to conservatives in western Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, they will have to work hard to overcome what appears to be Rendell's relatively strong momentum.
RHODE ISLAND (Toss-up): After combative primaries that didn't end until September 10, businessman/banker Don Carcieri, a first-time candidate for public office, won the Republican nod and businesswoman Myrth York won a third Democratic nomination for the state's top job. Gov. Lincoln Almond, a Republican, who outpaced York by nine points in 1998 and three points in 1994, is retiring due to term limits. Despite the state's overwhelming Democratic tilt, the race remains close.
SOUTH CAROLINA (Leans Democratic): Former congressman Mark Sanford's impressive win over Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler in the GOP primary dramatically changed the dynamics of this race and convinced both parties that things could get a lot tougher for Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges than folks had thought.
Sanford, who left the House under self-imposed term-limits in 2001, has posed such a threat to Hodges by focusing his campaign squarely on the issue of education and by moderating the sometimes conservative rhetoric he used in the House.
But Republicans say their best weapon this year is geography -- for the first time in recent memory, the GOP has a geographically balanced ticket, with Sanford from the Low Country and Senate nominee Lindsey Graham from the Upstate. A Hodges win is crucial for the future of state Democrats, who hope to prove that Hodges's win in 1998 was not a fluke and that they have actually repositioned their party to compete in the 21st century. At this point, however, it's probably too close to call.
TENNESSEE (Toss-up): While he's not on the ballot this year, Republican Gov. Don Sundquist is causing headaches for his party's nominee, four-term Rep. Van Hilleary, who has gone to great lengths to distance himself from the unpopular, term-limited governor.
Sundquist's approval ratings tanked last year after he pushed for enacting a state income tax. His plan failed, but his proposal, aimed at balancing an $800 million budget shortfall and preventing a government shutdown, alienated fiscal conservatives crucial to any GOP victory here.
Hilleary, of course, opposes an income tax, and has done everything possible to remind voters of that fact. Still, Democrats believe they have an opportunity here. Party leaders united quickly behind former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, who lost a close race to Sundquist in 1994. Recent polls are scarce in the Tennessee gubernatorial race, but insiders from both parties say the race is extremely tight. They also expect little change throughout the fall. Hilleary received fundraising visits from both Presidents Bush (the current and the former) in mid-September.
TEXAS (Likely Republican): Lone Star Democrats had it all planned out -- they would support free-spending banker Tony Sanchez, a Hispanic, who had vowed to spend millions to unseat Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and nominate former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, an African-American, for Senate.
The unprecedented presence of two minority candidates atop the ballot, they figured, would generate record-high turnout this fall among minority voters. The victory of two statewide Democrats would restore the party's long, lost glory and would provide a first-class snub to President Bush in his home state. While Kirk is holding his own against Republican John Cornyn, Sanchez so far has failed to pose a serious threat to Perry.
Sanchez's strategy relies heavily on financing an aggressive TV ad campaign, in which he has attacked Perry's ethics and painted himself as a supporter of many conservative causes, including gun rights. Independent polls show Sanchez closing the gap, but he still trails Perry by about 14 percent. Barring unforeseen developments, Perry should win this fall.
VERMONT (Leans Democratic): Lt. Gov. Douglas Racine, a Democrat, is heavily favored over state Treasurer Jim Douglas, the GOP nominee, in the race to succeed Howard Dean, a Democrat who has served as governor since 1991 and is retiring to focus full-time on his 2004 presidential bid. Racine got his start in the 1974 campaign of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. He was elected to the state Senate in 1982. Two years before that, Douglas was elected Vermont Secretary of State, a post he would hold until 1992, winning re-election five times and receiving the nomination of both parties on three occasions.
In 1992, Douglas was the GOP challenger to Leahy; he was outspent nearly 6-to-1 and lost by 11 points. He was elected state treasurer in 1994. This being Vermont (home of the nation's only self-described Socialist congressman, independent Bernie Sanders) minor-party candidates are taken seriously. Adding to Douglas's challenge, former state Human Services Secretary Cornelius Hogan is running as an independent. Hogan, a former Republican, is sure to draw more votes away from Douglas than Racine. Also, Michael Badamo is running under the Progressive Party banner.
WISCONSIN (Toss-up): Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum became the acting governor in 2001 when President Bush appointed then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, to be secretary of Health and Human Services. Despite the benefits of semi-incumbency, McCallum now faces a tough race against state Attorney General Jim Doyle, who defeated Rep. Tom Barrett and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. The former governor's brother, Tomah Mayor Ed Thompson, is running as a Libertarian. McCallum got his start in politics in 1976, when he ran for the state Senate and beat the incumbent by 32 votes. In 1982, Scott won the GOP Senate primary with 72 percent but lost the general election to incumbent Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat. He ran for lieutenant governor in 1986.
WYOMING (Leans Republican): Former state House Speaker Eli Bebout, a Republican, faces former U.S. Attorney Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, in November. Wyoming Democrats held the governor's office from 1974 to 1994, so they are hopeful that a conservative like Freudenthal could help them reclaim it. Recent polling shows the race is tight, but that Bebout enjoys a slight lead.