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By Paul M. Weyrich
Back in 1994 when Republicans won control of both Houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, they also elected governors all across the land. Vice President Cheney's assistant, Mary Matalin, then a spokesman for GOP causes, bragged that you could drive almost all the way across America before you would have to set foot in a state governed by a Democrat. Virtually all of those governors who came into office in l994 were re-elected in l998.
But now the year 2002 is approaching. Some of those popular governors, such as Frank Keating of Oklahoma and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania (both said to have been on President Bush's short list for the vice presidential nomination) are term limited, and in some cases, there is no obvious choice as a replacement. Then, of course, President Bush ran and won the presidency, so his former lieutenant governor, Rick Perry, is carrying the torch. He is a much weaker candidate than Bush was. Bush himself brought several Governors into his Administration. In each case, the successor is not as strong as the incumbent. In New Jersey, the successor to Christie Todd Whitman, Acting Governor Donald T. DiFrancesco, did not even get nominated by the Republicans. Various scandals knocked him out before the primary was held.
In Massachusetts, the female Lt. Governor, Jane Swift, who took the helm after the Governor was named the ambassador to Canada, is in serious, serious trouble. Among other things, she has taken off lots of time to give birth and care for twins. In Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson was the longest serving Governor in Wisconsin history and, at the time Bush tapped him to become HHS Secretary, was the longest serving Governor in the nation. He seemed unbeatable back home but, now that his lieutenant governor, Scott McCallum, has taken over, the Democrats think they will have an easy shot at capturing the governor's office in November 2002.
And so it goes. Republicans are defending almost two thirds of the governorships. Democrats have few vulnerable incumbents next year.
So while most eyes in Washington are focused on whether or not the Republicans
can win back control of the U.S. Senate and whether they can continue
control of the House for an unprecedented fifth straight Congress, the
rest of the nation appears to be ready to give the Democrats lots of victories
in the states.
Whatever happens in the Congress, it seems clear that Mary Matalin won't be able to make the same claim after the voters have their way in 2002.
Paul M. Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.
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