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Direct Access: The Governors

Tuesday, November 3, 1998

Washington Post Senior Correspondent Robert G. Kaiser hosts a live discussion about today's gubernatorial elections with Post national political correspondent Thomas B. Edsall.

Kaiser: Thomas Byrne Edsall has been covering politics for The Post since 1983. He's an author or co-author of three well-regarded books on politics. He writes for the New York Review of Books and other serious journals, as well as the Post, which makes him something of an egghead among political reporters.

Tom, I have a first question. For years you helped us understand the "wedge issues" that Republicans used to separate many traditional members of the Democrats' New Deal coalition from the modern Democratic party, turning them into reliable Republican voters. What's happened this year to those wedge issues? Do they still work for Republican candidates?

Edsall: For most of the election, wedge issues, used by either party, were irrelevant. At the close, however, the GOP is finding some success in individual races with partial birth abortion, gay rights, gun control and the traditional tax issue.

Mt. Sterling, Ky.: Will George W. Bush's win help bring in any more GOP house members?

Edsall: Bush will certainly help Texas Republicans, but there are only two close House contests in the state, so it will not be an overwhelming tide.

Minneapolis, Minn.: What the heck is going on here in my state's governor's race? I have no idea who has momentum, who has the better GOTV machine, or what "mood" Minnesota voters are in this year. Are there any late polls or indicators that shed any light on this VERY close race?

Edsall: I wish I knew. Latest polls give Humphrey slight edge, but all three look like they are going to be very close and each one could be in the 30-plus percent range.

Lakewood, Colo.: Does Gail Schoettler, Democratic candidate for Governor have any chance of winning? Poor weather in metro Denver, can't be good for a Colorado Democrat.

Edsall: She has an uphill fight, and odds are on a Republican in the statehouse for the first time in a generation.

Pittsfield, Mass.: What is your analysis of the Massachusetts governor's race. Do you think Cellucci will pull it out, or are the Democrats going to take the statehouse again?

Edsall: Cellucci is the frontrunner and if I had to bet, my money would go on him. Harshbarger has had trouble with his own Democrats. Plus, people liked Weld as governor.

Kaiser: You wrote an interesting story the other day about the great strides Republicans have made in recent years in the states, gaining a much stronger foothold in state legislatures while adding a large number of governors. Are those trends likely to continue in today's voting, do you think?

Edsall: The GOP looks like it will hold its own with 32 Governorships, although the Democrats have the edge in California, the grand prize. In the battle for state legislatures, the Republican Party has a good chance of picking up control in more states than the Democratic Party. The GOP should be in good shape after the 2000 census for redistricting.

Attica, Mich.: What is your take in the Engler-Fieger gubernatorial race in Michigan? Odds are greatly against Fieger, but how much of the Democratic vote will he even get?

Edsall: Fieger is not going to get much of any vote. The real issue is whether he drags down Democrats. The Democrats could lose the Michigan House, and Rep. Sandy Levin is in a tougher fight than expected.

Orlando, Fla.: Jeb Bush is likely to be the next governor of Florida. Does he have any presidential ambitions?

Edsall: He has to stand behind his older brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Albuquerque, N.M.: For the last several weeks we've seen a great deal of coverage on George W. Bush, how well he's finishing in Texas and the likelihood of a presidential campaign. Yet Tom Ridge is likely to win by as large, if not a larger margin in Pennsylvania. Why no "Ridge for Prez" talk? Just the lack of name recognition?

Edsall: There is talk of Ridge for vice president, especially balancing a ticket with the governor of a southwestern state on the top.

Burlington, Vt.: The Republican candidate for Governor in Vermont, Ruth Dwyer, has been running a mean-spirited campaign – with hard-right positions on just about every issue. Is this true for Republican challengers nationwide and why? Is there no moderate voice left in the Republican party?

Edsall: There are a number of GOP gubernatorial candidates who are not using harsh campaign techniques: Bush in Texas, Taft in Ohio, Graves in Kansas, Ridge in Pennsylvania, and a lot more.

Hyattsville, Md.: Virtually all the pundits have been telling us this was going to be a very low turnout election. Anecdotally, Hyattsville was rocking, WTOP reports higher than expected turnout in the area. Friends on the Net have discussed higher than average turnouts in New York City, Colorado.

Is this another case of so called reporters trying to spoon-feed conventional wisdom as if it were news?

Edsall: Wait until the day is over. The trend has been downward, and there is no reason to believe the 1998 election has inspired voters to turnout in large numbers.

Silver Spring, Md.: With the cost of running a winning campaign so high, it seems most successful candidates are essentially beholden to the financial interests that back them. Campaigns seem more and more to be "bought" by special interests on all sides. Why has the issue of campaign finance reform not ignited the passion of voters?

Edsall: This year, there has been less "buying" of elections by special interest groups than a huge surge in so-called "independent" television buys by the political parties, especially the GOP. The lack of interest in elections has many more causes than just campaign finance abuses.

Pittsfield, Mass.: Speaking of presidential ambitions, can you conceive George Pataki running or serving in the executive branch in 2000, 2004, or even farther in future.

Edsall: He is another potential vice presidential candidate who would provide support in the northeast for a presidential candidate from another region. His national credibility will probably rise after winning by a large margin today.

Washington, D.C.: Dan Lungren has been saying all along that he's still within striking distance. Is there anything at all to this, or is this just spin?

Edsall: Davis looks pretty good in California.

Baltimore, Md.: What is your prediction on the Maryland race? Will Glendening pull it off again?

Edsall: As of this moment, it would be smart to put your money on Glendening, if you can find someone to take the bet.

Kaiser: Just a few minutes left in our discussion with Tom Edsall

Santa Ana, Calif.: Is there at all a prayer for Dan Lundgren in California. It's amazing how convincing Gray Davis's "victory" will apparently be.

Edsall: I'm sure Lungren is praying, but I don't how effective it will be.

Cambridge, Mass.:
How do you explain the presence and success of moderate Republicans at the gubernatorial level and the near absence of the breed at the congressional level? What are the factors that lead to their flourishing in one environment and not in another?

Edsall: State elections are generally won with consensus strategies. In recent years, political strategists, especially on the GOP side, have tried to overrule your former congressman's adage – "all politics are local" (Tip O'Neill) – and turn them into national referenda, with clear, polarized stands on taxes, the environment, school vouchers, privitizing social security, etc. There are two separate political environments.

Hegewisch, Ill.: Please explain the surge in support for Jesse "The Body" Ventura in Minnesota's gubernatorial campaign ... and do you think this guy could be a factor in 2000 regardless of professional politicians flapping their gums that he's a "fluke"?

Edsall: I don't know if he will be a factor in 2000, but his success is going to be an incentive to independent and third party candidates in the future.

Kaiser: Thanks, Tom, for that good set of answers. We'll sign off now until 9 tonight, when I'll be back. We're hoping to be able to convey to on-line readers a little of the excitement of the Post's newsroom on election night. I'll also try to take readers' questions to key members of the staff for answers as the night progresses. I can't promise this will work – my colleagues may be too busy to be interrupted – but we are going to give it a shot. Thanks to all who sent in questions today; I'm sorry we couldn't answer every one. Be sure to come back often to tonight for up-to-the minute election returns.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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