State Races Add Excitement To Presidential Campaign
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
The Democrats have a numbers problem. There are 31 Republican and 17 Democratic governors in the United States (governors of the other two states -- Maine and Minnesota -are not members of the major parties). Next November, 11 states will elect governors but seven of the contested seats are now held by Democrats.
"Does it intensify the races for us? Yes," said John Hochstetter, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association (DGA). But, he says confidence is high because Democrats have won gubernatorial races in South Carolina and Alabama in 1998 and in Mississippi in 1999.
"By all accounts we are likely to pick up additional seats in 2000 and the prospect of making further gains is going to make us work even harder," Hochstetter said.
There is another factor worth remembering about this year's elections -- the November balloting will affect the balance of power more significantly than is usually the case because of redistricting. Congressional district lines will be redrawn as a result of the 2000 Census, and the architects of reapportionment will be Republican or Democrat, depending on which party controls any given state legislature.
Next year, 94 percent of the country's state legislative offices are up for election, or 6,975 seats. The only states that do not have state legislative elections are: New Jersey, Virginia, Mississippi, Maryland, Alabama and Louisiana. Michigan's House is up for re-election, but not the Senate.
"The political battle is really at the legislative level," said Tim Storey, elections analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). "The big issue is redistricting.
The 11 states electing governors this year are Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
In four of those states, sitting governors cannot run for re-election because of term limits. They are Delaware Gov. Thomas Carper (D); Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D); Montana Gov. Marc Racicot (R); and North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt (D).
"Open seats are the ones to watch," says Clinton Key, spokesman for the Republican Governors' Association (RGA).
In Delaware, the Republican candidate to succeed Carper is expected to be Speaker of the House Terry Spence, Attorney General Jane Brady or Chamber of Commerce head John Burris.
Lt. Governor Ruth Ann Minner is expected to be the Democratic standardbearer.
In Missouri, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Talent is expected to square off against Democratic State Treasurer Bob Holden for the state's top office.
In Montana, Republican Lt. Gov. Judy Martz is expected to battle Democratic State Auditor Mark O'Keefe, Attorney General Joe Mazurek or Secretary of State Mike Cooney for Racicot's desk.
In North Carolina, Lt. Governor Dennis Wicker and Attorney General Mike Easley are vying for the Democratic nomination to succeed Hunt. Charlotte's former Mayor Richard Venroot, House Rep. N. Leo Daughtry and Attorney Chuck Nealey are competing for the Republican nomination.
North Dakota is likely to be the scene of another competitive governor's race because the incumbent, Republican Ed Schafer, is stepping down. In traditionally Democratic West Virginia, Democrats think incumbent Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood is vulnerable. Either U.S. Rep Bob Wise or Attorney Jim Leahs is expected to oppose him. In Indiana, a state that usually goes Republican, incumbent Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon faces a strong challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. David McIntosh.
"West Virginia is traditionally a Democratic State and Indiana is traditionally Republican, but I think at the end of the day these races will come down to the personality of each candidate," the RGA's Key said.
Another race to watch is in New Hampshire. Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen is on the hot seat because of that state's ongoing fight over restructuring school financing, but according to a recent poll, her popularity has not suffered. Shaheen is expected to seek re-election.