Democrats Hope to Swing State Legislatures Their Way

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, October 1, 2006

Just as Democrats hope to shift the balance of power in Congress this November, they are hoping to control more state legislatures.

Tim Storey of the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures said there could be a seismic swing in the control of state legislatures in favor of Democrats this fall because of an energized Democratic base. Legislatures currently are controlled nearly equally by Democrats and Republicans.

"For a number of elections, the Republicans have been eating [the Democrats] alive," Storey said. "Do the Democrats build some momentum in the other direction? I think they're optimistic they can do that."

The balance of state legislatures could have national implications, as they have been the source of headline-grabbing lawmaking on topics including redistricting and state policies on health care, immigration and abortion that go beyond what Congress does.

The top 10 battlegrounds, according to the national conference, are Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.

Iowa is considered the most intense state, with its House and Senate up for grabs, and partisans on both sides are motivated by early investments in staffing and party infrastructure by prospective 2008 presidential candidates.

McGreevey Low on N.J. Governor List

Former New Jersey governor James E. McGreevey (D) has received full-court press in the past few weeks while promoting his book "The Confession," including a stop on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The book recounts McGreevey's secret personal life, which came into the national spotlight in summer 2004 when the married father announced he was a "gay American" and resigned.

The media offensive has catapulted the book onto the bestseller lists, but it has not helped his standing in the state.

A new poll by Monmouth University found that McGreevey is the most disliked of the state's past eight governors. Fifty-three percent of New Jersey adults had an unfavorable view of McGreevey, while 31 percent had a favorable view.

The most popular governor is Thomas H. Kean (R), who had a 55 percent favorable rating and an 11 percent unfavorable rating. The findings are notable for Kean, as well as his son. Kean headed the national commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and recently was the subject of controversy for his role as a consultant to an ABC series on the attacks. Thomas Kean Jr. is running in a close race to unseat Sen. Robert Menendez (D). Kean Jr.'s political career has been driven largely on the popularity of his father and his family's political legacy in the state.

After Kean, the list of most-favored was Richard Codey (D), current Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) and Christine Todd Whitman (R). Other former governors on the list include Donald DiFrancesco (R), Brendan Byrne (D) and James Florio (D), but many residents did not have strong opinions about them.

The poll was based on telephone interviews with about 400 New Jersey adults Sept. 18-21, with a margin of error of five percentage points.

Franken Joking It Up for Democrats

You might call it funny money.

Comedian Al Franken, who may challenge Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) in 2008, is raising significant sums of money for Democratic candidates, party committees and other liberal groups in Minnesota.

Since he formed the political action committee Midwest Values in October 2005, he has raised more than $800,000 for Democrats. The fundraising effort ranks among the top in the state. "If I did decide I was going to run, I will have had to do certain things to put me in a position to run," Franken said. "I decided that all the things to that end would be productive."

Franken was born in New York but grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs. He recently moved to Minnesota. Franken's committee has given thousands to House candidates in Minnesota as well as to Democrats in competitive Senate races outside Minnesota. The state Democratic-Farm-Labor Party has received $20,000.

Republicans have attacked Franken as a Hollywood-backed far-left celebrity. "Franken's liberal base and Hollywood supporters have supplied him with tens of thousands of dollars to promote his extreme views," Coleman said in a statement. Midwest Values has received contributions from prominent liberal celebrities such as singer Barbra Streisand, but Franken has said Hollywood contributions amount to less than one-tenth of the committee's contributions.

Franken said he will decide early next year on a Senate candidacy. "It's probably a great job which gives you tremendous opportunity to help people and help their lives," he said.

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