Election '88: the South

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ALABAMA There are no major statewide races here, and the Democrats should retain their domination of the state's congressional delegation.

If there's to be a lively contest in Alabama, it will most likely be in the southernmost district, around Mobile. This is one of two GOP districts in the state, but two-term incumbent Sonny Callahan has drawn a serious challenger in Democrat John Tyson Jr., a member of the state board of education.

Most of the attention this year went to the Democratic primaries for state Supreme Court nominations. Labor unions and trial lawyers pitted themselves against businesspeople and insurance companies in backing judges who would interpret new limitations on liability awards the state has enacted.

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The candidates supported by labor and lawyers, who oppose the limitations, generally carried the day. Republicans are not strenuously contesting these offices. ARKANSAS

The only serious competition in Arkansas this fall is presidential. A tossup state, it is meriting frequent visits from the national candidates.

Gov. Bill Clinton was nearly a contender for the Democratic nomination himself. Instead he became an active backer of Michael Dukakis's campaign.

Arkansans are unimpressed by the national attention their governor garners. On the other hand, the infamous speech he gave at the Atlanta convention this summer - the biggest oratorical belly flop of the year - did him little harm here.

None of Arkansas's four congressmen - three Democrats and one Republican - face reelection problems. FLORIDA

Florida lost a leading figure in the Senate when Lawton Chiles (D), chairman of the Budget Committee, announced his retirement. Then the leading candidate to replace him, popular former Gov. Reubin Askew (D), withdrew from the race, fed up with endless fund raising.

The September primary whittled the remaining Democrats down to Rep. Buddy MacKay and Insurance Commissioner Bill Gunter. Mr. MacKay emerged as the nominee in an Oct. 4 runoff.

His Republican opponent is Rep. Connie Mack, one of the most conservative members of Congress.

The Senate race has left three open congressional seats. Rep. Dan Mica lost in the Democratic Senate primary, and the bid to replace him appears to be one of Florida's most competitive House races. Former state Senate president Harry Johnston (D) is squaring off against Palm Beach city commissioner Ken Adams (R).

Mr. Mack's seat is likely to stay Republican, MacKay's to stay Democratic.

The most controversial items on the Florida ballot this November will be highly charged propositions. One is to make English the state's official language. Business and Latin groups are opposing this measure, but fear of cultural encroachment is running high.

The other is to cap liability payments awarded by courts for non-economic damages at $100,000. Spurred by Florida's crisis in liability insurance, the measure has state lawyers fighting mad. GEORGIA

The race they talk about in Georgia this year is Republican Rep. Pat Swindall's mud-splattered reelection brawl against Ben Jones (D), formerly an actor on TV's ``Dukes of Hazzard.''

Democrats have held their ground against the GOP march better here than in most other Southern states. Of Georgia's 10 US House seats, the incumbents most at risk are the two Republicans.

Mr. Swindall, a young fundamentalist conservative from suburban Atlanta, is in the most trouble. It began when he pursued an $850,000 loan even after an undercover Internal Revenue Service agent told him it might include drug profits. He never borrowed the money, but transcripts of the negotiations were published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta pollster Claibourne Darden gives the edge in the race to Mr. Jones.

Georgia's other Republican congressman, Newt Gingrich, is more secure. But he is facing his most considerable opponent yet in lawyer David Worley. Mr. Gingrich is favored, but Mr. Worley's aggressive approach is likely to narrow the distance between them, Mr. Darden says.

The Republicans are pushing their own dark-horse effort to unseat Democratic Rep. Charles Hatcher in south Georgia. The young GOP challenger is Ralph Hudgens, from the Pat Robertson camp. LOUISIANA

Elections here are unique - carrying the structure of one-party politics into the era of the two-party South. An all-comers, nonpartisan primary was held Oct. 1. In races where a single candidate did not win a majority, a runoff will be held Nov. 8 between the top two finishers.

Of Louisiana's eight US representatives, only Clyde Holloway (R) from the central Eighth District has been forced into a runoff. Mr. Holloway faces a repeat of his 1986 runoff against Faye Williams, a black Democrat.

Even Democratic Gov. Buddy Roemer's mother, Adeline, failed to unseat Republican incumbent Jim McCrery in the Fourth District, the seat formerly held by the recently elected governor. MISSISSIPPI

This year, Mississippi politics revolves around the retirement of the dean of the US Senate, Democrat John Stennis, after 40 years in office.

The race to replace him is a head-butting contest between two popular congressmen, Republican Trent Lott and Democrat Wayne Dowdy.

In Mr. Lott, the GOP has a top party leader who is minority whip in the House. Mr. Dowdy is newer to Congress, and more liberal than some of the older Mississippi Democrats. Dowdy is likely to win 90 percent of the black vote (the Mississippi electorate is 31 percent black), while Lott is likely to win a healthy majority of white votes.

Lott and Dowdy each is leaving an open House seat in his wake. In Dowdy's Fourth District, which includes Jackson, the leader is Democrat and funeral-home owner Mike Parker. His opponent, Thomas Collins (R), is a former Vietnam prisoner of war active in veterans' affairs.

The leading candidate to succeed Lott in the Fifth District is Harris County Sheriff Larkin Smith (R). State Sen. Gene Taylor (D) is opposing him for this heavily Republican district.

A trickier race to read is the first re-election campaign of Rep. Mike Espy (D) from the Delta region's Second District. Two years ago, Mr. Espy made history as the first black representative from Mississippi since Reconstruction.

He faces Jack Coleman (R), a businessman and former Department of Commerce official under President Reagan. Voting will undoubtedly split chiefly along racial lines, as it did last time. The district is 53 percent black, so Espy's prospects depend on black turnout and whether he has won over many of the white farmers he has courted.

NORTH CAROLINA

Republican Gov. Jim Martin is up for reelection - bucking to be the first Republican to serve two terms in office. And the presidential race is close here.

Further, more House seats are at risk here than in any other state in the Union. At least four of the state's 11 US House seats are closely contested.

Yet the state is heading toward ``one of the lowest turnouts in a general election in a long time,'' says pollster Walter DeVries. Voters are concerned about drugs and the budget deficit, Dr. DeVries says, but they expect little from politicians on either front.

The drift is favoring the Republicans so far. Governor Martin is running ahead of his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Bob Jordan, and the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, Jim Gardner, is showing slightly ahead of Democrat Tony Rand.

Mr. Gardner's bid is the strongest that a Republican has mounted for the lieutenant governor's post this century. It marks the slow, steady march down the ballot that the GOP is making in this one-time Democratic stronghold.

In congressional races, three Democratic incumbents are facing possible turnovers by Republican opponents.

Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill is in a tough race against a young conservative, Tom Fetzer. Rep. Stephen Neal of Winston-Salem is under even more pressure from Lyons Gray, a scion of the Reynolds tobacco family. Rep. James McClure Clarke from the Asheville area is also in a heavily targeted race with former state Sen. Charles H. Taylor.

The most vulnerable Republican is Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro, who won by a wispy 79 votes in 1986. His challenger is Tom Gilmore (D), a well-known former state senator. SOUTH CAROLINA

Popular Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell is working hard to build his party in South Carolina, but opportunities are not coming easily this year.

The GOP's best shot is in the Fourth Congressional District, in the Greenville-Spartanburg area. After Governor Campbell vacated the seat in 1986, Liz Patterson won it for the Democrats in a close contest. Mrs. Patterson, a former state legislator, is the daughter of the late US Sen. Olin Johnson.

Now Patterson is an incumbent with a healthy war chest. But her GOP rival, Knox White, a former aide to Governor Campbell, has kept her on the defensive over her record. George Bush or his campaign surrogates have appeared in the district almost weekly.

Rep. Floyd Spence (R) would be very vulnerable against Richland County councilman Jim Leventis in the Columbia area's Second District. But Mr. Spence underwent an operation this summer that aroused considerable sympathy for him.

Although the state GOP does not expect much change in the legislature this year, it is raising the pressure. Twice as many Republicans are running for state House and Senate seats as in 1984. TENNESSEE

Tennessee has been much on the political map this year. Sen. Albert Gore Jr. ran a strong campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Former Gov. Lamar Alexander and former White House chief of staff Howard Baker III were both top prospects for the GOP vice-presidential nomination.

As it is, though, the elections here look fairly conventional. Democratic Sen. Jim Sasser faces little resistance to a third term from Republican Bill Andersen. Two open seats appear headed to their incumbents' parties, one Republican and one Democratic.

The one precarious district, that of 14-year Rep. Marilyn Lloyd (D) of Chattanooga, could have been fairly safe except for Mrs. Lloyd's indecision. She announced her retirement, attracting a slew of competitors, then shuffled back into the race.

Her GOP challenger is Harold L. Coker, a tire dealer with strong roots in Chattanooga. And Lloyd's winning margins have been thin recently. VIRGINIA

Even though Virginia has an open Senate seat at stake, the contest has been overshadowed by early skirmishing in the gubernatorial race coming next year.

This has been especially damaging to the Republican Party. Lt. Gov. Douglas Wilder, who is black, has a strong hold on the Democratic nomination. But the Republican contenders are already tearing each other up in press conferences and dividing the party.

This fall's election in Virginia promises fairly dull fare. The House delegation is balanced, five from each party, and that is unlikely to change, says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.

The Democrats don't mind. They held only one of the 10 seats in 1982 and have crept back to parity.

The Senate race has not created much suspense. Virginia's brightest national star, former Gov. Charles S. Robb (D), has effortlessly dominated the race. Political observers speculate that Republican Sen. Paul Trible is vacating the seat and pursuing the governorship to avoid running against Mr. Robb.

Mr. Robb's image, however, is getting some tarnish this fall. Ten acquaintances from his Virginia Beach social set have been convicted on federal drug charges or granted immunity. No one has suggested that Robb has used drugs or that they have been used in his presence, but he has attended parties where cocaine was used.

None of this will be enough to help Robb's opponent, Maurice A. Dawkins. A rare breed, he is a conservative, black Republican sympathetic to Pat Robertson and North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.

The most vulnerable House seats in Virginia this year appear to be those of Republican Stan Parris in the District of Columbia suburbs and Democrat L.F. Payne in the southern Piedmont. WEST VIRGINIA

West Virginia will elect a US senator, four congressmen, and some state officials this year. But barring an unforeseen incident, only one race is hotly contested: Gov. Arch Moore's bid for reelection.

As a Republican governor, Mr. Moore faces a traditional battle to attract crossover voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic state. But this year, his race against Democratic challenger Gaston Caperton looks especially tough. The state's new tax system has created a shortage of state revenues, causing the governor to be late paying everything from state bills to medical claims and even income-tax refunds. To add to his woes, the state's economy is not particularly good. Nationally, coal production is at an all-time high, but mines here are producing more coal with fewer workers.

Even Republicans concede that Moore faces a difficult fight, even though his opponent is a political novice and not particularly articulate in a public setting. What Mr. Caperton does have is money and a reputation as an honest and effective businessman in Charleston, the state capital. In the primary, Caperton spent a record $2.2 million - mostly his own funds - to beat several better known opponents. Now, with a 2-to-1 lead in the polls, he is banking on a public rejection of Moore to cruise into office. Virtually no one, however, has given up on Moore, who is perhaps the cleverest politician in the state.

Senate majority leader Robert Byrd (D), who is seeking a sixth term, is expected to have an easy race over freshman state Sen. Jay Wolfe.

Staff writer Laurent Belsie also contributed to this survey. Next: The Rocky Mountain West, Oct. 28.

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