How big a mid-course correction?; Democrats reap harvest of governors

Democratic leaders looked long and eagerly to the Midwest for major gains in governorships. They weren't disappointed.

In five Heartland states - Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa - Republican governors were legally barred from, or decided against, running again. All but Iowa fell to the Democrats. In that state GOP conservative Lt. Gov. Terry Branstad, scored a narrow win over Democratic challenger Roxanne Conlin.

But political analysts in the industrial Midwest do not necessarily agree that the Democratic statehouse sweep amounts to a vote to ''throw the rascals out.''

''The Republicans were in a somewhat unlucky situation - there were several popular incumbents, and I think some of them would have been reelected if they had run again,'' says Dr. Carolyn Steiber, Michigan State University professor of political science. She says in her own state, which she describes as largely Democratic, governor-elect James Blanchard and incumbent Sen. Donald Riegle Jr., both Democrats, might well have been defeated if they had been up against stronger GOP candidates who appealed to a broader base of voters.

''The Midwest is the pocket of national unemployment - it was the key issue here, along with social security - and with some exceptions the Midwest clearly went for a Democratic slate,'' counters Dr. Sidney Kraus, chairman of the Cleveland State University Communications Department.

Generally in the Midwest as elsewhere in the US, incumbents fared well. One of the three area governors seeking reelection succeeded: Kansas Democrat John Carlin. Nebraska Republican Gov. Charles Thone was defeated by Democrat Bob Kerry. The outcome of the Illinois contest between GOP Gov. James Thompson and Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson III was still uncertain at this writing.

Some incumbents such as Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, Iowa GOP Rep. Cooper Evans (in a second match against Democrat Lynn Cutler), and Democrat Sens. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio and William Proxmire of Wisconsin scored decisive victories. But several incumbents barely squeaked by their oppnents. These included Sen. John Danforth (R) of Missouri, Sen. David Durenberger (R) of Minnesota, House minority leader Rep. Robert Michel (R) of Illinois, and conservative Rep. John Hiler (R) of Indiana.

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