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Democrats Poised to Beat GOP, Gain Majority in Governorships

By Nick Anderson
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

For the last eight years, Republicans have held the governor’s office in more than half the 50 states. Democrats are poised to erase that edge next week -- a shift that would reverberate across the country in local and presidential politics.

At minimum, Democrats are expected to approach parity with the GOP, winning enough of the 36 gubernatorial contests on Tuesday to command the statehouses in two dozen states. The Democrats also could gain a clear majority.

Republicans now govern 27 states, Democrats 21 and independents two. But perhaps more significant than the raw numbers is the size of the states each party governs.

Not only is Democrat Gray Davis favored to win re-election as governor of California, but several other large states now led by Republican governors are tilting toward a Democratic takeover -- including Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all considered pivotal in presidential contests.

“You’ve got some heavy-hitter states” poised to turn over, said John Kohut, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The implications for 2004 are clear. Democrats have gained some ground.”

In all, 10 of the 15 most populous states are expected to have Democratic governors next year. That’s a conservative projection. Among the other five:

--Florida, where Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is in a tight race for re-election against Democrat Bill McBride.

--Massachusetts, where Democrat Shannon O’Brien and Republican Mitt Romney are in a dead heat for an open seat.

--Texas, where GOP Gov. Rick Perry, elevated when George W. Bush became president, faces a tough challenge from Democrat Tony Sanchez, who is spending tens of millions of dollars of his own fortune.

Only in New York and Ohio, among the major states, are Republicans apparently assured of holding onto the governorship.

Depending on its strength, the Democratic gubernatorial surge could produce another milestone. Among the party’s nominees are nine women, all running competitively. If four win, then at least six governors next year would be women -- a record.

The lone Republican female nominee, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, also is running a strong campaign. Currently, there are five female governors.

Republicans face potential losses in large part because they have more seats to defend Tuesday -- 23 of the 36. Many of their warhorses, like Gov. John Engler of Michigan, were forced out by term limits. Democrat Jennifer Granholm, one of this year’s most prominent candidates, is favored to succeed him.