Both parties gear up for biennial statehouse quest

FROM his 12th-floor office window, Indiana Republican state chairman Gordon Durnil can look out on the Capitol, where Gov. Robert D. Orr, now running for a second term, spends most of his working days. As Governor Orr's campaign manager , and head of what is widely regarded as one of the best-run Republican networks in the United States, Mr. Durnil is confident - but taking nothing for granted.

''It's never in the bag,'' he says in response to a suggestion that it looks that way. ''But if the election were held today, he'd win.''

There are 13 governorships up for grabs in November. Of the seven now held by the GOP, Indiana is viewed by Republicans as the one most certain to stay in the fold. The most recent GOP state survey - by Detroit pollster Robert Teeter - gives Governor Orr a 20-point lead over any Democratic candidate.

Not that the road is free and clear for the Indiana incumbent. He faces some token Republican primary opposition. And three Democrats are vying for the opportunity to challenge him in November. The Democratic front-runner at this point in both dollars and visibility is W. Wayne Townsend, a state senator who operates a hog and grain farm in Hartford City but who has strong enough labor ties to win the endorsement of both the United Automobile Workers and the AFL-CIO.

Soliciting funds for what he calls the ''Governor Orr retirement fund,'' from his campaign headquarters in a rehabbed school several blocks southwest of the capitol, Mr. Townsend contends that 15 years of Republican governors for one state is long enough. The GOP, in his view, has grown ''arrogant, complacent, selfish, and unresponsive.''

He accuses Governor Orr of being too frugal in per-pupil education spending (Indiana ranks 38th) and of standing in the way of needed license-plate patronage reform. In partisan Indiana, county political leaders dispense license plates. Any profits tend to go to party coffers.

Cash shortages have been found in some county branch offices in recent months. Though both parties have benefited from the system in years past, Townsend insists that it is ''morally and ethically wrong to use a public service to line the pockets'' of one's ''political cronies.''

Counters Indiana GOP chairman Durnil: ''Whether patronage is good or bad is a philosophical question, but from the standpoint of services and cost, no one can match what we do in Indiana. Influence from the bottom up is what keeps the party structure strong.''

Though Townsend is considered a hard fighter, most political analysts - including the most partisan Democrats - do not expect him to win. They point out that Indiana is the only large state where the governor, both US senators, and the legislative majority of both houses are Republican. In 1982 when the party generally fared poorly around the nation at the polls, Indiana GOP Sen. Richard G. Lugar was reelected by a comfortable margin.

''Indiana's traditional Republicanism has been reasserting itself,'' says George C. Roberts, a political science professor at Indiana University.

''I imagine, especially with Reagan on the ticket, that Orr will win with a comfortable plurality,'' agrees Kenneth Kofmehl, a political scientist at Purdue University. ''Townsend isn't the kind of Democrat that wins in Indiana,'' he adds.

In presidential-election years, when relatively few governorships are on the ballot, the outcome often tends to be a ''wash,'' with a loss or gain of one or two for either party. This year is expected to be no exception. ''It's a hold-your-own year,'' one Republican strategist insists.

By contrast, in the midterm election of 1982, Democrats snared 27, for a net gain of seven among the 36 gubernatorial posts on the ballot. The poor condition of the economy and a tendency to blame the Washington party-in-power were viewed as key factors.

Most political analysts, however, say any direct coattail effects for state officials from national candidates in a presidential-election year tend to be minimal. Voters, they say, expect a governor to protect the state against any intervention or meddling by federal authorities. This is perhaps one reason that congressmen often have a tough time succeeding in a gubernatorial run.

This year the GOP has the larger number of incumbents running for reelection - four of seven governors compared with the Democrats' two of six - but are confident of keeping only Indiana and New Hampshire. In the Granite State, Gov. John Sununu, who wiped out a $40 million deficit without breaking his pledge not to raise state income or sales taxes, seeks a second term.

Republicans are less certain of keeping North Dakota, where they have a majority in the Legislature but where wins by either party have often been by narrow margins. GOP Gov. Allen I. Olson, who is seeking a second term, has drawn sharp criticism for appointing two top officials who have since resigned amid charges of tax fraud and shoplifting, and for drawing on state funds to purchase an airplane and redecorate his office.

A hot, four-way Democratic primary contest is under way in which former Gov. Arthur Link, a popular moderate who has been netting most of the delegates so far, and state Rep. George Sinner are the front-runners.

Prof. Ronald Pynn, a political scientist at the University of North Dakota, says recent university polls suggest that Governor Olson is indeed vulnerable. ''I think the prime issue is apt to be moral leadership. Personality and whether or not the candidate is a solid, down-to-earth citizen with appeal to rural voters have always been more important than issues here. If Link gets the bid, he'll give Olson a good run for his money.''

GOP leaders also are not sure they can hang onto Washington State. The Republican incumbent, John Spellman, has drawn considerable fire from conservatives within his own party, who dominate the Legislature and do not like his proposals for tax increases.

While Democratic state Sen. Jim McDermott, who ran against Mr. Spellman in 1980, is considered too liberal by some to succeed, he faces a stiff primary challenge from Pierce County Executive Booth Gardner, who is viewed as a political moderate and a particularly skillful administrator.

Although one GOP strategist, who has just visited Washington, insists that Spellman is doing better than expected (''everybody had been saying he was a goner''), Charles Dolan, director of the Democratic Governors Association, says his party is holding out high hopes for a Washington win.

The Democrats also expect to keep their two gubernatorial incumbents - Ted Schwinden in Montana and Bill Clinton in Arkansas. But Elwood (Woody) Freeman, a contractor and president of the school board in Jonesboro, is expected to mount a stiff challenge in Arkansas.

That state's voters well remember when another relative unknown from Republican ranks - businessman Frank White - beat the controversial Governor Clinton in 1980.

The Democrats also hope to keep the traditionally Democratic states of Rhode Island, North Carolina, and West Virginia, although all three current governors are stepping down.

In North Carolina, no fewer than six Democrats are vying for the party's nomination to succeed Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., who cannot succeed himself and will seek the seat of GOP Sen. Jesse Helms this fall. A recent University of North Carolina poll puts Attorney General Rufus Edmisten, a deputy chief counsel for former Sen. Sam Ervin's special Watergate investigating committee in 1972, slightly ahead of the pack. But GOP leaders insist US Rep. James Martin, the likely Republican nominee, could run well and make North Carolina a GOP ''sleeper.''

Division within Rhode Island's Democratic ranks, amid charges of corruption and incompetence in the administration of retiring Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy, adds an element of uncertainty to Democratic prospects there. Warwick Mayor Joseph Walsh, one of three Democrats running, managed last year to replace a Garrahy supporter at the helm of the state's Democratic leadership with one of his own supporters.

Charles Dolan of the Democratic Governors Association stresses that a candidate's individual organization is often more important than any division within the party in influencing voters.

But GOP leaders say the division is cause for hope that Cranston Mayor Edward DiPrete, a close friend of Governor Garrahy, and a Republican running with a largely female slate of candidates for other top state offices, can win.

In long-Democratic West Virginia, where Gov. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV cannot legally run for a third term, the governorship is expected to be all the tougher for Democrats to keep now that popular former Republican Gov. Arch A. Moore has decided to run, just a week before the filing deadline. His likely Democratic opponent is Attorney General Chauncey Browning Jr.

Although registered Democrats in West Virginia outnumber Republicans by better than 2 to 1, state GOP chairman Kent Strange Hall insists that former Governor Moore can point to a strong record of economic progress for the state during his two terms in the 1970s and will tote up a ''decided '' win.

''He is about the only one who could pull us out of the economic doldrums we've been in under Rockefeller,'' Mr. Hall insists.

But Utah, where popular Gov. Scott M. Matheson recently decided to step down after his second term, may well be even more difficult for the Democrats to keep. Traditionally Republican, Utah has a solid GOP congressional delegation and a Republican majority in both houses of the Legislature.

There are currently five Republicans hoping to capture the gubernatorial nomination. Rep. Dan Marriott, whose advantages include a well-known name and close business ties, is working hard to separate himself from other party candidates, and is viewed as having the edge.

JUST as Democratic leaders are concerned that they may not be able to hold onto Utah, so GOP leaders admit that Missouri, where Republican Gov. Christopher S. Bond is legally barred from seeking a third term, will be a tough state to hold.

Historically, Missouri has been more Democratic than Republican, and it currently has a Democratic majority in both houses of the Legislature.

The current Democratic front-runner is Lt. Gov. Kenneth Rothman of Ladue, a longtime Missouri legislator. On the GOP side, the race is neck-and-neck between Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was reelected to that job in 1980 with a comfortable 65 percent majority, and St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary, who has close ties to the St. Louis business community.

Much of the early campaigning has centered on whether or not state opposition has been strong enough against the court-ordered requirement that it pay a substantial portion of St. Louis's school desegregation costs.

But Richard Dohm, a University of Missouri political-science professor, says the main election issue is sure to be whether the state remains a low-tax state or boosts taxes: ''Candidates have traditionally run against raising taxes, but the fiscal situation is . . . desperate.''

Although it is losing veteran Republicans in both the Delaware and Vermont governorships - Pierre S. DuPont IV, who is legally barred from seeking a third term, and Richard Snelling, who has decided after four terms to step down - the GOP hopes to hang onto the chief-executive job in both states.

In Delaware at least three Democrats, including a state Supreme Court justice who resigned to run and former Gov. Sherman Tribbett, are vying for their party's nomination. But most veteran political analysts view GOP Lt. Gov. Michael Castle, who has Governor DuPont's support, as the governor's most likely successor.

Although Republicans say Vermont is traditionally a strong GOP state, the Democratic Governors Association's Mr. Dolan views Vermont as a ripe target for a Democratic takeover.

The Democratic front-runner is former Lt. Gov. Madeleine Kunin, who received 44 percent of the vote in a 1982 race against Mr. Snelling. Leading GOP candidates are John Easton Jr., an accomplished campaigner with a reputation as a strong consumer advocate, and banker Hilton Wick, who is making his first try for public office.

One thing is sure. There is a lot of hard political work ahead--even in Indiana.

"The national situation affects us," admits Indiana GOP chairman Durnil. "Reagan's popularity is part of the euphoria you have now. The danger is that you have to keep the troops enthused."

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