Elections Will Bring Five Freshmen Governors
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
A Navy reserve officer who shipped out to Afghanistan weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks and a millionaire businessman whose family invented the "clamshell" container for McDonald's Big Mac are among the newcomers competing to join the nation's corps of governors on Election Day.
At least five freshmen governors will be elected this November in 11 gubernatorial races across the country.
The governors' seats in Montana, Washington and West Virginia are wide open because the incumbents opted not to run again while the posts in Missouri and Utah are up for grabs because the sitting governors failed to win their parties' nomination to seek a new term. Jobs, health care and education are key issues in all the races.
Among the slate of possible new governors are an attorney general in Washington state who helped craft the nationwide tobacco settlement and a Montana rancher who as a young man spent seven years in Saudi Arabia developing 28,000 acres of irrigated cropland. And in Missouri, the next governor will be a former state lawmaker as both gubernatorial candidates had stints in the Statehouse.
Two of the hottest races are in the presidential battleground states of Missouri and Washington, where voters for the first time could elect women into the states' top executive posts.
In Missouri, State Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) defeated Gov. Bob Holden in the state primary by arguing that she had a better chance than the beleaguered Holden to beat Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt on Nov. 2 and bring in more votes for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Both candidates also hope to influence Statehouse races. In 2002, the GOP gained control of both houses for the first time in a half century.
The race also is being watched closely in Washington, D.C. Blunt is the son of U.S. House Majority Whip Rep. Roy Blunt, the third-ranking House Republican. The younger Blunt, a Navy reservist, was Missouri's first statewide elected official to be called to active military duty after the 2001 terrorist attacks; he served six months in Afghanistan.
In Washington state, Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire faces Republican Dino Rossi for the seat of the popular Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, who decided not to run for a third term.
Gregoire is the state's first female attorney general and a prime architect of the landmark $206 billion settlement between the states and the tobacco industry. Rossi, a real estate broker and state senator, presents himself as an agent of change who can turn the state around by breaking the Democrats' nearly 20-year hold on the governor's post.
Jobs are a top priority for a state that lost Boeing's headquarters to Chicago and Airborne Express jobs to Florida. Rossi wants to cut regulations while Gregoire wants to create a $1 billion "Life Sciences Discovery Fund" to back new biotech research, using tobacco settlement money.
The race in West Virginia, another battleground state, is not considered close. Secretary of State Joe Manchin (D) is a heavy favorite over Republican Monty Warner, a developer and retired Army colonel. A sign of just how weak Warner's backing is comes from a group called "Republicans for Manchin." The group said Manchin's experience as a state lawmaker and business owner makes him the better candidate. Gov. Bob Wise (D) opted not to run for re-election after acknowledging he had an extramarital affair. Bringing in jobs and reining in high workers' compensation costs are key issues in the race.
Two Western states Montana and Utah also will bid farewell to their chief executives, both women who are leaving the governors' mansions for different reasons.
In Montana, Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown will face rancher Brian Schweitzer (D) in the contest to replace Gov. Judy Martz (R), who decided not to run after one term in which she saw her popularity dip to 20 percent in some polls.
Political experience is a key issue in the Montana race, which recent polls indicate is a dead heat. Brown spent more than 25 years as a state legislator, ending his legislative career as Senate president the youngest member of the GOP ever elected to that post. Brown won a close primary after refusing to rule out tax increases.
Schweitzer, the Democrat, has never held public office, but he picked as his running mate an experienced Republican state lawmaker, John Bohlinger. Schweitzer made a name for himself politically when he ran strongly against, but lost, to Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in the U.S. Senate race in 2000. Schweitzer's first job after graduating from college was as an irrigation developer in places such as Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. If elected, he would be the state's first Democratic governor in nearly 15 years.
In Utah, the race is between the son of a former governor and the son of a wealthy entrepreneur. Education is a standout issue, particularly the federal No Child Left Behind education law that has drawn fire from both candidates. The law holds schools and states accountable for student test scores and is unpopular among state politicians of both parties in Utah.
Democrat Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah law school and the son of a former governor, is critical of No Child Left Behind and wants it changed. Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. wants to dump it entirely even if it means losing federal money. The Utah Legislature this year canned a bill to opt out of the law entirely and chose instead to study the cost of the federal mandates. If elected, Matheson would be Utah's first Democratic governor since his father, Gov. Scott Matheson, held that post in 1977-1985.
Huntsman is chairman and chief executive officer of Huntsman Family Holdings Co., a petrochemical corporation that made its name with the Big Mac container. Huntsman held several posts during President George H. W. Bush's administration, including serving as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, and worked as a White House aide under Ronald Reagan.
Gov. Olene Walker, a Republican, lost at the state's GOP convention in May 2004. She succeeded Mike Leavitt, whom President George W. Bush tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency in November 2003. Walker, the former lieutenant governor, became the first female governor in Utah.
Incumbent governors are running in the remaining six governors' races in Delaware, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota and Vermont. Here's a quick look at the major candidates in these races:
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D)
Bill Lee (R) - Retired Superior Court Judge and '00 candidate
Gov. Joe Kernan (D)
Mitch Daniels (R) Former director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget
- New Hampshire
Gov. Craig Benson (R)
John Lynch (D) - chairman of the University System Board of Trustees, businessman
- North Carolina
Gov. Mike Easley (D)
Patrick Ballantine (R) - state senator, attorney
- North Dakota
Gov. John Hoeven (R)
Joe Satrom (D) - Former state senator and state tourism director
Gov. Jim Douglas (R)
Peter Clavelle (D) - Serving seventh term as mayor of Burlington