Power Surge Coming for Republican Governors GOP Should Keep Most Governorships, and State Influence on Policy Is Growing. Series: Election for a New Century - 1998

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As an extraordinarily unsettled election season heads into the final lap, one thing looks certain: continued Republican dominance of the governor's offices. But unlike four years ago, when the GOP dramatically increased its grip on state capitals, today's power is apt to prove more potent. First and foremost, there is the "Georges" factor. Big-state Republican governors who polls show are likely to win Nov. 3 include possible presidential contenders, like George W. Bush of Texas and George Pataki of New York. As they begin testing the waters for the 2000 race, their governorships could provide the platform and testing grounds for national campaign themes. Second, Republican governors will hold the whip hand over the redrawing of electoral districts as a result of the 2000 census, a process that will influence the balance of party power in state legislatures and Congress for the next decade. In particular, most states likely to gain seats in Congress as a result of population growth since 1990 (Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Montana) are either already in the hands of a Republican or are likely to be so after next month's voting. And last, the Republican governors are expected to continue to flex their muscle on national policy issues, much as they did on welfare reform after 1994. Political analysts predict that education reform will top the agenda of Republican governors in 1999. Four years ago, when the Republican Party took control of Congress, it also went from minority to majority status in governorships. The number of GOP governors rose from 19 to 30 and now stands at 32. This November, "I expect a swing of two or three, either way," says Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, past chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association. GOP gains would push their gubernatorial clout to a level not seen since the early 1900s. Of particular note is the likely Republican control over most, if not all, the governorships of the largest states. Incumbent Republican governors in Texas, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are heavily favored in recent polls to win reelection. In Ohio and Illinois, Republican candidates are in the lead according to polls. The biggest surprises for the Republicans could come in California and Florida. Republican Jeb Bush, son of former President George Bush and younger brother to the governor of Texas, looks likely to supplant Democratic rule in Florida. But polls in California continue to give Gray Davis (D) a slight lead over state Attorney General Dan Lungren. Individual and collective Gubernatorial influence on national affairs usually occurs in one of two ways, say analysts. Individually, a figure emerges from the ranks of governors and generates a national-policy debate by virtue of his candidacy. …