Four Republicans, Two Democrats Ousted in Governors Races
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Six governors found themselves out of a job Wednesday after elections that gave Democrats a new hold on two high-growth Sun Belt states, Florida and Texas, while producing Republican surprises in the Northeast and Midwest.
The results in the governor’s races didn’t fully satisfy either party but produced one clear winner - independents. Former Republicans running as third- party candidates won in Connecticut and Alaska.
Voter anger over taxes and unease over the economy appeared to be behind some of the incumbents’ losses, including the ousters of Republicans Bob Martinez in Florida, Kay Orr in Nebraska, Mike Hayden in Kansas and Ed DiPrete in Rhode Island.
The Democratic incumbents who lost, Rudy Perpich in Minnesota and James Blanchard in Michigan, both were longtime political fixtures who were seeking third terms and whose personalities had become an issue.
″This is simply an overpowering moment,″ said John Engler, the Republican winner in Michigan. A week ago he was far behind in the public opinion polls.
Sen. Pete Wilson’s victory in California, keeping the state in Republican hands for a third term, was the GOP’s top priority, party spokesman Charles Black said. Wilson defeated Democrat Dianne Feinstein and now gets to appoint his own successor in the Senate.
The victory also means Republicans will have veto power when California’s Democratic-controlled legislature draws new congressional district lines. California stands to gain seven House seats as a result of population shifts, and Texas and Florida also will pick up seats.
Republicans captured five statehouses that had been in Democratic control: Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Michigan and Minnesota.
Massachusetts winner William Weld had campaigned with a call for cutting state spending, but he appeared to benefit most from lingering anger at retiring Gov. Michael Dukakis and a series of mean-spirited remarks from Democratic nominee John Silber. Silber had called Weld a ″backstabbing son of a bitch″ and an ″orange-headed WASP,″ and displayed startling anger in a network television talk show interview three days before the election.
Democrats captured seven governorships from Republican control. They will replace retiring GOP governors in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, as well as the incumbents unseated in Florida, Kansas, Rhode Island and Nebraska.
One state was still in doubt, and seemed likely to remain that way for a while.
Arizona Republican Fife Symington led narrowly over Democrat Terry Goddard, but he was below the majority required by a new state law passed in the turmoil of Evan Mecham’s impeachment two years ago.
Write-ins won enough votes to deny Symington 50 percent of the vote. The Arizona law calls for a runoff, but no one knew when it would be held.
″Overtime,″ declared Goddard. ″The rules of this game haven’t been written yet.″
The results produced a net decline of one governorship for the Democrats, to 28, and a drop of one for the Republicans, to 20, if Symington prevails.
The gains were the independents - in Alaska, former governor and Nixon-era interior secretary Wally Hickel, and in Connecticut, Lowell Weicker, reborn as an independent after losing his GOP Senate seat two years ago.
Numbers and independents aside, Democrats looked like the bigger winners.
Ann Richards’ victory in Texas was a stinging embarrassment for President Bush, who claims Texas as his home and spent the last three days there stumping for Republican Clayton Williams.
″Bush doesn’t make any difference,″ said Mark Gearan, director of the Democratic Governors’ Association. ″He doesn’t have any coattails and in some cases he burdened the candidates.″
The overriding issue in Texas appeared to be Williams himself, and the gaffes he committed in squandering a once-overwhelming lead in the pre- election polls. The last straw may have come last week when the millionaire oilman offhandedly admitted he paid no income taxes in 1986.
Williams acknowledged that his damage was mostly self-inflicted.
″Maybe I’m a little too open, maybe straightforward,″ Williams said.
The loss of Martinez to former Democratic Sen. Lawton Chiles in Florida was also an embarrassment to Bush, who had made three campaign visits to the state. The victory gave Democrats the chance to claim they have halted - at least for now - Florida’s clear trend toward Republicans in recent years.
″I think all Republicans are breathing a huge sigh of relief because there was so much doom-and-gloom going on,″ said Michele Davis, director of the Republican Governors’ Association. ″Obviously Texas was a heartbreaker, but Michigan takes a little of that pain away.″
Gearan said Democratic losses in Ohio and Michigan, and the party’s failure to regain Illinois, were in part due to a weakened economy and increased burdens on state governments as a result of 10 years of Republican presidents. Democrats, he said, were blamed for their states’ economic troubles.
″We took the fall,″ he said.
One of the most startling outcomes was in Minnesota. The winner, Republican Arne Carlson, had been a loser in the GOP primary. But he was placed on the general-election ballot just 10 days before the election when the GOP nominee, Jon Grunseth, withdrew from the race amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
In victory, Carlson compared himself to Lazarus, the biblical character who rose from the dead.