The nation's Republican governors were urged today to seek help from congressional Republicans in an effort to win more statehouses in 1986, a crucial factor in their hopes of achieving a major political realignment over the next several years and becoming the nation's majority party.
GOP pollsters Robert Teeter and Richard Wirthlin told the governors that, while more headlines have gone to Republican efforts to retain control of the Senate in 1986, the midterm elections will be "absolutely crucial" to the governors' desire to add to their numbers, and that control of statehouses is key to rebuilding the party at the grassroots level.
There are 16 Republican governors, a net gain of one in the 1984 elections. Two states, Virginia and New Jersey, hold gubernatorial races next year, with 35 governorships up in 1986.
V. Lance Tarrance, a Houston-based pollster, urged the governors to seek a working arrangement with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is capable of raising large amounts of money, to help finance the organizational base needed to elect Republican governors and state legislators.
Tarrance, who said that gubernatorial elections increasingly turn on national rather than state issues, said the governors could use national party money for everything from recruiting candidates to hiring campaign consultants on a larger scale.
Teeter noted that governorships are "one place where the party has not recovered" from heavy losses in the post-Watergate 1974 elections.
"The governors are one area that's trailed organizationally," Teeter said. "They're independent races and they need some organizational way to broaden their base, raise money and get expertise. We need to concentrate on states where we have no governors for no good reason, particularly in the South and West."
"I'm going to make the rounds in Washington to make it clear that we plan to play a bigger role in 1986," said Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania, the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "The theme of this meeting is the distortion between the sweep in the presidential election and the number of us here. Reagan's sweeping win doesn't necessarily lead to majority status or legislative control, but it and the numbers on party identification are a resource to tap into."
Frank F. Fahrenkopf Jr., chairman of the Republican National Committee, told the governors that while realignment had not yet occurred, "the opportunity is here. The future is bright if we don't blow it."
He said that in one national poll taken after the November elections, 32 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 32 percent as Democrats and 36 percent as Independents. Four years ago, he said, the same poll showed 46 percent describing themselves as Democrats, 26 percent as Republicans and 26 percent as Independents.
Along with winning more statehouses, the governors also emphasized the need to elect more state legislators before 1990, when the next census will be taken and the House of Representatives will be reapportioned.
Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, the outgoing governor of Delaware who is running for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, has a political action committee, "GOPAC," that has contributed money and technical advice exclusively to state legislative candidates.
"You can't work from the top down with the right guy at the top of the ticket, you've got to have that army," he said. "The GOP is not the majority party today and it won't be until we get down to the governors, mayors and county commissioners."
Wirthlin said that while there has not yet been a realignment, "the political landscape has been altered mightily."
This is because of Republican gains with white southerners, Catholics, Hispanics and the young, which are traditionally Democratic groups.
Republican gains among younger voters this year were dramatic. In 1980, Reagan won 44 percent of voters age 24 or younger but in 1984 won a whopping 64 percent.
"They're harbingers," Wirthlin said. "That first vote is critical because there's a good chance you can keep it for the next 10 presidential elections."