Breadbasket's ballot battles

The Plains states, that tier just West of the Mississippi River, is a region known for its rich, flat farmland and its independent politics. Farmers in these breadbasket states, hit hard by high interest rates and high prices, may prove to be more independent than ever in this fall's elections.

Among gubernatorial candidates, incumbents in Kansas and Nebraska, a Democrat and Republican respectively, are considered in the strongest position to win again. And Democrats are likely to gain a congressional seat in Iowa and Kansas but may lose at least one in Missouri. Iowa

That bright new feminine face making the campaign rounds in Iowa these days belongs to Roxanne Conlin, a liberal Democrat and women's rights activist who may yet become this conservative farm state's first woman governor.

A former US attorney for the southern district of Iowa, Mrs. Conlin is a witty, sunup-to-sundown campaigner who combines generally liberal views with a tough law-and-order stance. She would abolish the state's right-to-work law but favors doing away with parole and requiring those guilty of crimes to repay their victims.

But political analysts say much now depends on how successfully Mrs. Conlin, an ardent critic of tax shelters during her hard-fought primary campaign, manages to quash the damaging effects of her recent disclosure that she and her husband last year paid no state taxes and only $3,000 in federal taxes (albeit quite legally) despite assets of more than $2.2 million.

Until that gaffe, which Mrs. Conlin admits has dried up contributions to her campaign, statewide Iowa polls had given her a steady lead of several points over GOP opponent Terry Branstad, currently Iowa's lieutenent governor.

Though capitalizing on his professional connection with Iowa's popular and enduring (14-year) Gov. Robert Ray, Mr. Branstad has been generally regarded as less experienced, more conservative, and less cautious. He has managed to build a strong organization with ample financial backing but has not yet won over some of the more moderate and liberal GOP regulars.

While the three congressional seats now held by incumbent Democrats are generally considered secure, all three of Iowa's incumbent GOP congressmen face tough reelection challenges. The most endangered Republican seat is that now held by Rep. Cooper Evans, a prosperous farmer from the north-central section, who managed a narrow win over Democrat Lynne Cutler in 1980. Since then the district has been redrawn to include much of the traditionally Democratic Iowa State University area. And Ms. Cutler, who picked up valuable support after her loss by working as vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has decided to have a go at a rematch. Kansas

Gov. John Carlin, an incumbent Democrat, has angered the oil industry but pleased many voters by advocating an energy severance tax to support state education programs. Although Republicans dominate both houses of the Kansas Legislature, the Democratic governor is expected to fare reasonably well regardless of whom voters select as his GOP opponent in the Aug. 3 primary. If it happens to be state House Speaker Wendell Lady, however, the severance tax is sure to disappear as a campaign issue because both men support it. Governor Carlin has taken some needling in past months from Republicans over his shift in position on capital punishment - he now opposes it. But few political experts think such apparent waffling on one-time campaign promises will cost him many votes.

Democrats are expected to pick up one additional congressional seat in Kansas as a result of a long, drawn-out redistricting effort that favors the Democrats. A key aim of the boundary shift was to weaken the Republican strength of conservative incumbent Jim Jeffries in the state's northeast district. His decision June 11 to pull out of the race is viewed as assuring Democrat Jim Slattery, a real estate investor and former state legislator, an easy win. Missouri

Missourians are expected to reelect Republican incumbent Sen. John Danforth in November. Senator Danforth, who has good ties with a broad mix of people and groups from labor leaders to business organizations, has already raised some $ 650,000 toward his second run. That puts him in a stronger position financially than any of his Democratic challengers, who will fight it out in the state's Aug. 3 primary. Front-runners with the strongest support of GOP party regulars are banker Burleigh Arnold and state Sen. Harriett Woods.

Democrats could lose at least one congressional seat as the result of redistricting. One of the closest contests is expected in the remapped west-central district. The race is between two incumbents, Democrat Ike Skelton and Republican Wendell Bailey. Also, Democratic Rep. William Clay faces a particularly tough primary challenge in his St. Louis district from veteran state Sen. Al Mueller. The redrawn district includes many blue-collar workers and is no longer as predominantly black as it was. The new mix of voters is considered less likely to support Representative Clay's frequently confrontational political style and his strong stand in favor of busing and abortion. Mueller, who also has a strong labor record, opposes school busing and abortion. Nebraska

Republican incumbent Gov. Charles Thone is trying for another term. While he is favored to win, his position is considered less secure than it was a few months back. He is up against Robert Kerrey, a young restaurateur, Vietnam veteran, and a relative newcomer in Democratic politics. Mr. Kerrey defied most predictions by trouncing his opponent in the May primary by a margin larger than that secured by Governor Thone over his primary opponent. Governor Thone, who may be forced to raise taxes because of budget problems in the state, was one of the few governors who supported Ronald Reagan during the presidential primary, but he no longer goes out of his way to support the President's policies.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Edward Zorinsky is expected to easily win a second term. And Nebraska's three Republican congressional seats are currently considered safe for the GOP. In one, incumbent Virginia Smith is running with no Democratic opposition, a situation unprecedented in the state's recent political history. North and South Dakota

In North Dakota, incumbent Democratic Sen. Quentin Burdick will face a Republican challenge from Gene Knorr, a former Washington lobbyist and Treasury official. Though targeted by conservatives as a man to beat, Senator Burdick, a proven vote-getter during his three terms, is expected to win again. North Dakotans are also expected to reelect the state's lone congressman - Rep. Byron Dorgan, another Democrat.

South Dakota Republican incumbent Gov. William Janklow is seeking reelection. He is tough-talking, confident, and popular. And despite the troubles many Midwestern Republicans are expected to face in the fall, he is currently expected to win his race against Democratic state Sen. Mike O'Connor. With reapportionment, South Dakota is reduced to one congressional district, which pits two incumbents against each other. The race is expected to be close.

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