California, The Coveted Prize
By Donna Cassata, CQ Staff Writer
(CQ, July 11) -- Labor was one of the driving forces behind Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis' stunning primary victory in California's gubernatorial race June 2, with its rank and file spurred to the polls by a ballot initiative on union dues and the candidacy of a longtime union backer.
The high-stakes question for November is whether labor will turn out again, pushing Davis to victory over Republican state Attorney General Dan Lungren in the most closely watched governor's race in the country.
For Democrats this election, the matter is imperative. Davis provides a ray of hope in what has been a bleak gubernatorial year. Twenty-four GOP governorships are at stake, but half the Republican governors should have little difficulty getting re-elected. Texas' George W. Bush, New York's George E. Pataki and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania are expected to win so handily that Democrats are simply trying to minimize the damage to other candidates on the ballot.
Elsewhere, Republicans have a clear shot at Democratic-held governorships in Florida, Nebraska, Georgia, Maryland and Hawaii, increasing their lead from the current 32-17. There is one independent.
That alone would make winning in California crucial, but there is more. The 2000 census and the next round of redistricting are expected to give California at least four more House seats -- it gained seven in the last round -- and could be the difference in control of the House. The governor will oversee it all.
California's 54 electoral votes also mean that the next governor will be anointed a potential candidate for the presidential ticket in 2000.
Labor established an unparalleled grass-roots organization in California that turned the widely predicted landslide win of Proposition 226 into a shocking loss June 2. The initiative would have required unions to get prior consent from members before using dues for political purposes.
Some observers compared labor's organizing and get-out-the-vote effort on Proposition 226 to "spring training" that will boost Democratic chances in the real game Nov. 3. Others point to a historic precedent of initiatives energizing union voters for years to come.
"It's in our best interest and intent to make the best use of the operation begun in 226," said Gale Kaufman, a Democratic political consultant in Sacramento, Calif., who worked with labor.
In 1958, California voters, led by labor, defeated a right-to-work ballot initiative. In subsequent election years, labor boosted the Democrats, including Edmund G. "Pat" Brown's gubernatorial win over Richard M. Nixon in 1962.
Republicans say labor's turnout on Proposition 226 was a one-time phenomenon, said Steve Scott, managing editor for the California Journal, a magazine that focuses on state politics and policy. "But it's easier to mobilize union voters," he said.
While defeating Proposition 226, labor provided a good portion of the support for Davis, who captured all but one California county and won an expensive and nasty primary over two high-spending Democrats. In a surprise to many, Davis also garnered more votes than Lungren, who had no opponent in California's first open primary. The current governor, Republican Pete Wilson, is limited to two terms.
"Unions are alive and well and prepared to work hard when something is at stake," said Malcolm Jewell, a political science professor who retired in 1994 after 36 years.
Histories of Service
Davis and Lungren bring a wealth of political service to the race.
The New York-born Davis was chief of staff (1974-81) to Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, a resume entry that Lungren is expected to emphasize as a sign that his opponent is too liberal. Davis was a state assemblyman (1983-86) and state controller (1987-95).
Davis is certain to stress his support for abortion rights and California's history of backing candidates who favor the right to choose. Lungren opposes abortion.
Lungren, a moderate Republican with a law-and-order record, worked as a Senate aide on the staff of the Republican National Committee and was a House member from 1979 to 1989.
Democrats are certain to comb through his voting record for issues, and with California's significant Asian-American population, focus on Lungren's outspoken opposition in 1987 to reparations for Japanese-Americans interned during World War II.
In September 1987, Lungren decried what he called the "misguided notion that the dollar sign is the only genuine symbol of contrition."
But a year later, Lungren backed compromise legislation (PL 100-383) that provided $1.2 billion in reparations.
With the stakes so high, national Republicans are expected to campaign hard and provide plenty of cash for Lungren's bid as the GOP tries to keep its 16-year lock on the governorship.
Other Challenges to the GOP
Republicans face stiff challenges in a handful of other states, like California, where Democrats improved their chances through the first half of the primary season.
- Alabama. Republican Gov. Fob James Jr. emerged bruised but unbowed from a June 30 runoff victory over businessman Winton Blount, in which the strongholds of former segregationist Democratic Gov. George C. Wallace turned out in force for the incumbent.
"Fob James is George Wallace lite," said Carl Grafton, a political science professor at Auburn University at Montgomery. "When he first ran in 1978, he wanted to rid the state of the negative image of George Wallace. It's a political reincarnation."
The nastiness and name-calling that marked the runoff is expected to continue in the race for the general election, which pits James against Democratic Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman.
While the GOP candidates were pounding each other, Siegelman was increasing his $3.5 million-plus treasury for the race. But he faces not only an incumbent, but one who has delivered for the teachers' union and has their support, a daunting challenge for the Democrat.
"I'd bet a dollar on Fob James, but only a dollar," Grafton said.
- Illinois. The political contrast in Illinois could not be more pronounced. The Democratic nominee, Rep. Glenn Poshard, is anti-abortion and anti-gun control and counts downstate Illinois as his strong base of support. His is on the same ticket as liberal Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun.
On the Republican side, Secretary of State George H. Ryan is a moderate running with a Senate nominee who is unabashedly conservative, wealthy state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.
Democrats, who have not won the governorship since 1972, worry that Poshard's anti-abortion stance will drive away the moderate, suburban women voters who are considered key to the election. The differences between Poshard and Moseley-Braun will serve as a stark reminder.
They are also worried that, while Ryan has been proposing initiatives on health care and other issues, Poshard has been focused on serving as the congressman from the 19th District.
"Poshard is running a stealth campaign," said Al Ronan, a former Democratic state legislator (1979-92) and a lobbyist in Illinois.
The key, according to most political observers, is how much effort Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley will make in Poshard's behalf.
"The mayor has the power and popularity. It's critical for Poshard," said Paul Green, a political science professor at Governors' State University near Chicago.
Mike McKeon, a Joliet-based pollster who works for both parties, suggested that Ryan may be taking the religious right support for granted, while Poshard has made significant inroads in what has been a GOP base of support.
"Poshard runs like no other Democrat downstate," McKeon said.
While polls show Ryan leading and holding a clear fundraising advantage -- he has about $7 million while Poshard is struggling to raise money -- Green does not discount Poshard's ability to attract labor's support and to energize voters.
"Big, brawny men swoon," Green said. "They look at him the way young girls look at [actor Leonardo] DiCaprio."
Governors at a Glance
Republicans hold the governorships in 32 states, Democrats in 17; 36 governorships are on the ballot, 24 held by Republicans, 11 by Democrats; 18 incumbent Republican governors are seeking re-election, 6 are retiring; 6 incumbent Democratic governors are seeking re-election, 5 are retiring
© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.