Presidential Calendar Boosts '08 Govs' Races
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
Hillary Clinton's victories March 4 over rival Barack Obama in the Ohio and Texas primaries means the Democrats' 2008 presidential nominating machine will focus next on Pennsylvania April 22, before moving on to North Carolina and Indiana May 6.
Unlike voters in the 45 states who have already made their White House picks in primaries or caucuses -Mississippi's vote on March 11 being the most recent - voters in the Tar Heel and Hoosier states will be the first to consider gubernatorial contenders at the same time they make their presidential preferences.
"The spectacle of a contested primary will bring more folks to the polls in North Carolina ," said Dean Debham, president of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh . The polling firm reported that 75 percent of those surveyed March 3 said they would be more likely to vote if the primary would influence the nominee for president.
On the flip side, John McCain's clinching the GOP presidential nod is worrying some North Carolina Republicans concerned that their voters will stay home for the primary and not choose among five GOP candidates for governor, including Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and state Sen. Fred Smith. "We'll have to work hard to get our voters to the polls," said Brent Woodcox, state Republican Party spokesman.
On the Democratic side, the state's current lieutenant governor, Bev Perdue, has nearly doubled her lead over her closest competitor, state Treasurer Richard Moore, according to Public Policy Polling's March 5 survey . The North Carolina race is wide-open because incumbent Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, is term-limited and cannot run again.
In Indiana , Republican incumbent Gov. Mitch Daniels is unopposed, but the Democratic ballot will carry two names: Jim Schellinger, an architect, and Jill Long Thompson, a former congresswoman who has the backing of EMILY's List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women running for office, including Clinton .
"The state's (presidential) primary hasn't mattered since 1968," said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker. Tying it to a presidential primary contest that is undecided will turn out more voters, he said.
Daniels' re-election number was a relatively low 41 percent of the vote, but he had 23 percent leads over Democrats Schellinger (54-31 percent) and Jill Long Thompson (56-33), according to a Feb. 25 Howey Gauge poll .
'Open' primaries may make a difference
Both states have "open" primaries that allow independent voters to cast their ballots for either the Republican or Democrat ticket.
Some insiders speculate that independent voters in Indiana could help Schellinger, more than Thompson, since he is running as an outsider seeking change, a theme independents have embraced. Jerry Meek, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, predicts, "The unaffiliated voters will cut strongly toward the Democrats," but said it was too difficult to assess whether the independents will go for Perdue or Moore .
Other states with linked gubernatorial and presidential primaries coming up are West Virginia and Montana . But in both cases, the incumbent governors are expected to win in the general election.
While West Virginia Republicans had their presidential caucus Feb. 5, the presidential and gubernatorial primary is May 13. Incumbent Gov. Joe Manchin III, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, will face state Rep. Melvin Kessler in the Democratic primary. Manchin appears in a strong position to win a second term, with a February poll showing a 71 percent "favorability" rating among likely voters. The Republican challenger is former state Sen. Russ Weeks.
Other races to watch
Two of the most closely watched gubernatorial races this year are in Missouri and Washington, where voters have already endorsed McCain and Obama in their presidential contests held Feb. 5 and Feb. 9, respectively, but their primaries for governors' races are both in August.
Voters clamoring for change in Missouri are guaranteed a new face in the governor's mansion. Republican Gov. Matt Blunt shocked the Show-Me State when he announced Jan. 22 that, having achieved virtually everything he set out to accomplish when he ran for governor, he would not seek a second term.
The race in Missouri had been shaping up to be a knockdown- drag out fight between Blunt and Jay Nixon, the state's Democratic attorney general. Now it's up to Republicans to decide on a candidate. The GOP challengers include U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof who in 2005 was booted off the U.S. House Ethics Committee after that panel admonished then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on ethics charges.
The other leading GOP candidate in Missouri is Sarah Steelman, the state treasurer who is known for her campaign to get state and local governments to stop investing publicly managed funds in companies that do business in countries believed to sponsor terrorism. Democratic candidate Nixon led Hulshof and Steelman by double-digit margins in a Feb. 14 poll by Rasmussen Reports.
In Washington , voters know both gubernatorial candidates well since this year's contest is a rematch of the 2004 political slugfest between Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi. Gregoire won that contest last time by just 133 votes after three recounts and a lawsuit. The race so far is a statistical dead heat with Rossi receiving 47 percent of the vote, and Gregoire 46 percent, according to a March 5 poll by Rasmussen Reports .