Governor's races: Most states will still be in Democratic hands

Even if Republican Ronald Reagan wins the White House, continued Democratic control of at least half the nation's governorships seems assured. While considerably more Democratic than GOP state executive seats are on the line in 1980, prospects appearslim for Republicans to make more than modest gains.

Political coattils of the presidential candidates are barely visible in most of the 13 gubernational races from New Hampshire to Washington State. With campaigns focusing on local concerns ranging from taxes to foreign refugees, the Carter administration is more an issue than a political asset for most Democrats. And Republicans generally are content to ride a Reagan wave without being tied too closely to his campaign.

Currently, Republicans hold 19 governorships and Democrats, 31. Thus, the GOP would need a gain of six to pull even with the opposition party.

A Monitor survey, however, indicates:

* The GOP will likely retain the governorships in Delaware, Indiana, and Vermont -- the party's only three seats at stake.

* Democrats appear safe in five states -- Arkansas, Montana, North Carolina Rhode Island, and Utah.

* Slim leads are given to Democrats in four states -- New Hampshire, North Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia.

* One state -- Missouri has a race too close to call.

Ten of the 13 governor's races involve incumbents running for re-election, four of whom face particularly serious challenges. They are Democrats Joseph F. Teasdale of Missouri, Hugh J. Gallen of New Hampshire, Arthur A. Link of North Dakota, and John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV of West Virginia. And three former governors -- all Republicans -- are seeking political comebacks.

Here are the highlights from each governor's race:

Arkansas: Democratic incumbent William Clinton, the nation's youngest governor at 34, is favored over Republican and bank president Frank D. White for two reasons: a Democratic tradition and the virtually automatic granting of a second two-year term. Still, Mr. Clinton is vulnerable over a tax hike, low teacher raises, a failed firewood project for the elderly, and for allowing Carter to place Cuban refugees at Ft. Chaffee. The governor's primary opponent, a 77-year-old turkey farmer, got a surprising 31 percent.

Delaware: Republican Gov. Pierre S. du Pont, touting the fiscal soundness of the state and an income tax reduction, appears all but certain for a second four-year term. State Rep. William S. Gordy, his Democratic challenger, blasts him for "lack of leaderhip" and insensitivity to fiscal problems of the state's largest school district.

Indiana: With Republican Gov. Otis R. Bowen ineligible for a third four-year term, Robert D. Orr, his lieutenant governor for the past eight years, is vying for the executive chair against Democrat John A. Hillenbrand II, an industrialist. The key issue is economic growth and attracting new businesses. Orr leads in the polls.

Missouri: A rerun of the 1976 gubernatorial contest pits former Republican Gov. Christopher S. (Kit) Bond against Democratic Gov. Joseph Teasdale, who unseated him. Recent voter samplings indicate a possible upset. Bond accuses the Democratic governor of unkept campaign promises, including one to hold down utility rates. Mr. Teasdale holds that his administration has kept close to the people and that his GOP opponent was less responsive to state needs while in office.

Montana: With second-term Democratic Gov. Thomas Judge having been toppled in the June primary, the match is between Lt. Gov. Ted Schwinden, the Democratic victor, and Republican State Rep. Jack Ramirez, a billings attorney and wheat farmer. The GOP candidate has made his key issue the growth in state spending under Democratic governors during the past 12 years. Mr. Schwinden, who seems to have the lead, is stressing what he considers achievements of the outgoing Democratic administration, including progress in human services.

New Hampshire: Arch-conservative Meldrin Thomson Jr., the former Republican governor unseated two years ago in an unprecedented fourth-term try, is battling to wrest the state's executive chair from Democrat Hugh J. Gallen. The GOP nominee charges his successor with squandering a budget surplus he says was there when he left office but which Mr. Gallen contends never existed.

North Carolina: Democratic Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. seems to be holding a commanding lead in his bid to become the state's first chief executive elected to a second four-year term only recently allowed under a constitutional change. State Rep. I. Beverly Lake, his Republican challenger, is a converted Democrat whom GOP US Sen. Jesse Helms encouraged to switch Mr. Lake has accused the incumbent of planning to push an increase in the gasoline tax and has attempted to link the Hunt administration with alleged bid-rigging in highway program.

North Dakota: The race between Democratic incumbent Arthur A. Link and the young and aggressive GOP attorney general, Allen I. Olsen, focuses on farmers' concerns. In TV ads, Olson calls for a new leadership with "political crops rotation" while two-term Link, who leads slightly, stumps with an old violin and Norwegian songs.

Rhode Island: Third-term prospects for Democratic Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy have brightened considerably in recent weeks with his Republican opponent, Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci, beset with municipal fiscal problems resulting in the recent layoff of some 500 city workers. Cianci faults Garrahy on state unemployment and other problems.

Utah: A strong lead by first-term Gov. Scott M. Matheson will likely result in the Democrats holding the governor's chair for two decades in Republican Utah. His battles with Uncle Sam over the MX sites, water projects, and never gas storage have helped him against ex-GOP state chairman Robert Wright.

Vermonr: Reaching for a third two-year term, Republican Gov. Richard A. Snelling appears to be sailing along despite increased political heat from State Attorney General M. Jerome Diamond, his Democratic rival. Energy is the dominant campaign issue, with the governor supporting importation of Canadian hydroelectricity. Mr. Diamond warns off foreign energy dependence and power lines criss-crossing the Green Mountain State.

Washington: A September primary upset that ousted Democratic incumbent Dixy Lee Ray was a political slingshot for child psychiatrist James A. McDermott in the final race against Republican John Spellman, a stern administrator of the state's largest county for 10 years. Still, fiscal conservative Spellman may be able to make a liberal label stick on his opponent, who has not ruled out a tax boost.

West Virginia: In a rematch of their 1972 race, first-term Democratic John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV goes up against former two-term Republican Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. Mr. Moore's charge that Goveror Rockefeller is spending upward of $12 million on a media blitz plays on the vestiges of the young governor's carpetbagger image. But Moore's 1978 Senate race loss and his earlier corruption trial and acquittal have held him down in the polls.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.