Cover Story

Catch-23

"Catch-23" Continued...

Issue: "GOP: No room for error," Oct. 19, 2002

Pennsylvania When President Bush tapped Tom Ridge as Homeland Security chief last year, he may have undermined his own security. The abrupt departure of the popular Pennsylvania governor set off a scramble in Harrisburg. Interim Gov. Mark Schweiker announced immediately that he wouldn't seek a term of his own, and Attorney General Mike Fisher eventually emerged as the Republican nominee. Carrying the banner for the Democrats is former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, a bitter partisan who also chaired the Democratic National Committee.

Republicans in the statehouse this year managed to close a $1.3 billion budget deficit, but only with a huge increase in the cigarette tax and a bunch of one-time fixes. Deep fiscal problems remain, and next year's deficit is projected to be $1.8 billion. Voters appear to be tired of GOP control: Mr. Rendell leads the race by 16 points, and the Fisher campaign seems to be fading. Democrats are already engraving the plaque on this one.

Michigan After 12 years of GOP control, this important swing state looks ready to swing back to the Democrats. Attorney General Jennifer Granholm has galvanized support among suburban soccer moms in her bid to be the state's first female governor, and she leads Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus by 12 points in the latest polls. Mr. Posthumus is getting some mileage from a leaked memo that shows Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick promised black support to Ms. Granholm in exchange for political patronage, but it may be too little, too late. The memo hasn't eroded Ms. Granholm's support among suburban women, and she's making gains with urban union households, as well.

Wisconsin It's been nearly two years since Gov. Tommy Thompson left Madison for a slot in the Bush cabinet, but his Republican successor, Scott McCallum, hasn't managed to endear himself to the state's ticket-splitting voters. Facing a $1.1 billion budget shortfall, he has refused to sign a "no new taxes" pledge, and only 37 percent of Wisconsin residents view him favorably. He trails his opponent, Attorney General Jim Doyle, by 11 percentage points. Further complicating the election is Libertarian candidate Ed Thompson, the former governor's brother. He's polling 7 percent, and most of his support appears to come from voters who would otherwise back Mr. McCallum.

Illinois Politicians pay big bucks to earn statewide name recognition. But for Republican Attorney General Jim Ryan, high name recognition is actually a curse. Polls show that voters confuse him with current Gov. George Ryan, the subject of a federal bribery investigation. Both men are Republicans, but the would-be governor has taken great pains to distance himself from the sitting governor-not an easy task when his opponent, Rep. Rod Blagojevich, is spending millions on ads that link the two.

Besides the bribery scandal, Gov. Ryan (who is retiring) is unpopular due to the state's budget crisis. Illinois is about a billion dollars in the hole, and after 25 years in power, Republicans catch most of the blame. Although polls show him on the rise, Jim Ryan still trails his rival by nearly 10 points.

California If ever there were a state where a budget crisis should cost the governor his job, California would be the place. After four years in office, Gray Davis has managed to spend his state into a $26 billion hole. With higher taxes and scaled-back services on the horizon, even Democrats were once talking about abandoning their governor.

But the Republican nominee, millionaire businessman Bill Simon, has polarized Californians and sent many centrist voters scurrying back to the Democrats. Despite the budget mess and lingering questions about his fundraising, Gov. Davis has managed to scare socially liberal Californians with charges that Mr. Simon is a "true-blue, think-tank conservative, a son of the first family of the far right"-particularly on issues like abortion, gun control, and the environment. By raising more than $65 million to get that message out, Mr. Davis has opened up a 10-point lead in the polls, and the national GOP has all but given up on the race.

Still, those national leaders may be underestimating the political power of a state budget crisis. Until two months ago, after all, they'd given up on Maryland, as well.

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