Calif., MA Governor Races Rage On
WASHINGTON (AP) _ George W. Bush of Texas and his brother Jeb of Florida won their races for governor Tuesday, giving the Republican Party control of two of the nation’s largest states. At the same time, voters ousted the Republican incumbents in South Carolina and Alabama.
The race in Minnesota turned into an Election Day free-for-all. Early returns showed Reform Party candidate Jesse ``The Body″ Ventura, a former professional wrestler, holding a slim lead over the two major party candidates _ Democratic Attorney General Hubert ``Skip″ Humphrey III and Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
``I like Jesse because he wasn’t mixed into that political scene,″ said Minnesota voter Ken Purmont, 52, a graphic artist.
Gov. Parris Glendening of Maryland won in a closely fought rematch with Republican Ellen Sauerbrey, and Democratic incumbents won re-election in New Hampshire and Vermont. The party also won an open seat in Iowa and was optimistic about retaining the office being vacated by Democratic Gov. Zell Miller in Georgia.
Acting Gov. Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts, another Republican incumbent, ran neck-and-neck with Democratic Attorney General Scott Harshbarger.
Heading into Tuesday’s voting, the GOP already held the governorship in 32 states. Both parties expected to trade some seats, with the Republicans predicting a gain of one of two when the vote-counting ended.
The Democrats were aiming for the governor’s suite in California, where Lt. Gov. Gray Davis was leading Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren. The Democrats hoped that winning the governorship of the nation’s most populous state could help tilt the House of Representatives in their favor when congressional districts are redrawn after the 2000 Census.
George W. Bush easily won his second term, sure to heighten speculation about his presidential aspirations. Like his brother, he is a son of former President Bush.
Jeb Bush beat Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, avenging his loss to Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles four years ago. ``I want to thank the best parents in the world, by far,″ Bush said, looking at his father.
Two brothers haven’t held governor’s offices simultaneously since Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York 1958-73 and Winthrop Rockefeller was governor of Arkansas 1967-71.
With George W. Bush leading the nation’s second-largest state and his brother in charge of the 4th-largest, one of every eight people in the nation will have a Bush as his governor.
The GOP celebrated the wins against the backdrop of losses by Govs. David Beasley in South Carolina and Fob James in Alabama. In addition, the seat being vacated by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was taken over by a Democrat, state Sen. Tom Vilsack.
Beasley, a party standard bearer as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, lost his seat to former state House Minority Leader Jim Hodges.
Late in the campaign, he was hit with allegations he had committed adultery with his former press secretary, a charge Beasley, his wife and the other woman denied at a new conference. Beasley also struggled against campaign spending by groups interested in establishing video poker in the state.
In Alabama, the 64-year-old James was a champion of conservative Christians. He earned headlines by taking stands in favor of teacher-led prayers in public schools and a Ten Commandments display in a courtroom. The winner, Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, pledged to create a Georgia-style lottery in Alabama.
Outgoing Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, highlighted the turnovers. ``That is a very strong statement that this party is back in the South,″ Romer said.
Jerry Crim, 66, of Frisco, Texas, said he voted for George W. Bush despite speculation that he may not serve out his 4-year term. ``He’s done such a good job here that he may not run for president,″ said Crim. ``Governor Bush is very popular.″
Democrats were struggling in Hawaii, where Gov. Ben Cayetano faced Maui Mayor Linda Lingle, a Republican. A loss by Cayetano would turn over the governor’s office to Republicans for the first time since 1962.
Both parties were less confident in predicting the winners in Nebraska, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois and Iowa.
Besides George W. Bush’s victory in Texas, wins by incumbent Republican governors included Frank Keating in Oklahoma, Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, John Engler in Michigan, Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania and George Pataki in New York _ sure to trigger speculation about them as presidential or vice presidential candidates in 2000.
Republican incumbents also won in Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming. In another closely watched rematch, Rhode Island Republican Gov. Lincoln Almond fended off a challenge from Democrat Myrth York.
U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne won the governor’s race in Idaho and Secretary of State Bob Taft won in Ohio, holding both seats for the Republicans.
All told, 36 governorships were up for election. Going in, the Republicans held 24, Democrats had 11 and Maine Gov. Angus King Jr. was the lone independent on the ballot. He easily won re-election.
The current Republican majority is almost the opposite of the party’s gubernatorial strength a decade ago.
With 32 seats, the GOP has pushed legislatures across the country toward an agenda that includes tax cuts, welfare reform and smaller government. The party has also sought tougher graduation standards for students and strengthened certification requirements for teachers.
``Republican governors from the largest of states ... to the smallest states, we’re doing well. I think that says something about finding very good candidates with a competitive and articulate message,″ said Keating, the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Exit polls were conducted by Voter News Service for The Associated Press and five television networks.