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Republican Crystal Ball: Rain on Governors' Parade

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By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Sunday, December 4, 2005

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney assumed the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association last week, and immediately confronted a troublesome landscape for 2006. As Romney put it during a break at the RGA gathering at La Costa resort, "The math is not in our favor this time."

There will be 36 gubernatorial races next year, 22 in states held by Republicans and 14 by Democrats. Seven of the eight states where the incumbent isn't seeking reelection are held by the GOP -- and that could grow to eight if Romney decides to forgo a second-term bid in favor of running for president in 2008.

He emphasized he's no political forecaster. But based on what he's been told by other Republican analysts, he said, if conventional expectations are borne out, the Republicans could lose three to six governorships -- after failing to pick up either Virginia or New Jersey last month. That could strip them of their majority. "If we run good campaigns, we'll do better than that," Romney said.

Republicans, who hold 28 governorships, are particularly worried about losing New York, where Gov. George E. Pataki is retiring after three terms and setting his sights on a possible presidential campaign. In Ohio, the scandal-racked administration of Gov. Bob Taft has put the Republicans on the defensive in a state that has been crucial to the party's presidential fortunes.

"Ohio should be a tough state," Romney acknowledged. "Bob Taft has had a tough run this year and has left us in a weaker state than I'd like."

Other states now held by departing Republican incumbents that are likely to be competitive next year include Florida, Arkansas, Colorado and Nevada. Beyond that, several GOP incumbents are facing tough campaigns, including Maryland's Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Republicans, however, see several potential opportunities to offset likely losses. The retirement of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), another governor thinking about a 2008 presidential campaign, opens up a state that President Bush won in 2004. Romney also said that three Democratic incumbents in the Midwest are vulnerable: Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan, where persistent economic problems have left voters in a sour mood.

Heating Up Home Heating

With the air turning colder, a liberal advocacy group is trying to make nearly 70 Republican House members break a sweat over rising home-heating costs.

The Voices for Working Families Action Fund is sponsoring phone calls to 68 GOP lawmakers urging them to act on a bill that includes $2 billion in home-heating subsidies when the House returns this week.

"These are the people who need to make a move on this," explained spokeswoman Kate Snyder. "They are on the wrong side of the issue or haven't made this issue a priority."

The automated phone calls feature a woman named Claire (a senior citizen, Snyder said) telling listeners that she just opened her heating bill and "nearly fainted."

"Something needs to be done, but our representatives in Congress are more concerned with stopping those corruption investigations than helping people with limited incomes like us," Claire says. She goes on to tell each targeted lawmaker to "get off your duff and stop energy companies from gouging us."

Among the Republicans being targeted by the group: Reps. Rob Simmons (Conn.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio), Chris Chocola (Ind.), Melissa Hart (Pa.), Gerald C. Weller (Ill.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.) and Charles Bass (N.H.).

The calling campaign left National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Carl Forti cold. "Clearly, this is just a Democrat front group; otherwise they would be doing phone calls against Democrat members for voting against the increase in low-income heating assistance," he said.

Cillizza is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com. His politics column, The Fix, appears daily at www.washingtonpost/thefix.


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