BOSTON, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Voters this fall will be electing a new generation of governors in five and possibly all six New England states, and these new chief executives will be facing a common problem.
"It's the economy," according to Boston University Prof. Tobe Berkovitz, "but also the connection of the economy to services that people want from their states."
Whoever wins, tight budgets and tough decisions face all the governors in the post-Sept. 11 economy.
"Without a doubt, the top priority for all governors is going to be the budget," Berkovitz told United Press International. "Balancing the budget, trying to fairly allocate funds, and then deciding where very difficult cuts are going to occur in each state."
The outgoing New England governors include a doctor who would be president, another a U.S. senator, two victims of term limits and the first governor to give birth in office.
Primaries to choose those who would replace them take place Tuesday in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut, and on Sept. 17 in Massachusetts. Maine has already had its primary.
Only in Connecticut is a sitting governor, Republican John Rowland, in a position to be returned to office, but that's not a sure bet. The only Democrat challenging Rowland, former state Comptroller Bill Curry, has pulled to within fewer than 10 points of Rowland in recent polls.
Two governors ran into term limits -- Maine Independent Angus King and Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Almond. They are ineligible to run for re-election.
New Hampshire's Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, instead of seeking re-election, is running for the U.S. Senate. That has set up one of region's most hotly contested gubernatorial races.
Three wealthy candidates are battling for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire -- former Cabletron Co. founder and Chief Executive Officer Craig Benson, former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, and former state Sen. Bruce Keough.
Seeking the Democratic nod are state Sen. Mark Fernald and state Senate Minority Leader Beverly Hollingworth.
This has been the most expensive gubernatorial race in New Hampshire history.
The top Republicans have spent huge sums on TV and radio ads -- more than $15 million, including $14.6 million in personal fortunes.
Benson leads in total spending at $9.2 million., including $8.7 million from his personal fortune of some $600 million. Humphrey has spent $3.9 million, putting in $3.7 million of his and his wife's money. Keough has spent a total of $1.9 million.
Democrats on the other hand have bought no broadcast time, preferring instead direct-mail campaigns. Together they have spent a combined $600,000 -- Fernald $307,000 and Hollingworth $287,000.
In New Hampshire's Senate race, Shaheen is unopposed on the Democratic ticket while three-term Rep. John Sununu is challenging incumbent Sen. Bob Smith for the GOP nomination. A recent Concord Monitor poll had Smith and Sununu effectively in a dead heat.
In Rhode Island, there are two Republicans and three Democrats running for the chance to replace Almond. Convention Center Authority Chairman Jim Bennett is being challenged by retired businessman Don Carcieri for the GOP nomination. On the Democratic side, Attorney General and former U.S. Attorney Sheldon Whitehouse is up against state Rep. Tony Pires and former state Sen. Myrth York.
In Vermont, Democrat Gov. Howard Dean, a medical doctor, is retiring at the end of this term after 11 years. His plans to make a run for the presidency in 2004 have stirred excitement in some circles.
Vermonters may have to wait until January to find out who their new governor is. The state's Constitution requires a majority to be the winner, but that may not happen in November.
The top three candidates are Republican state Treasurer Jim Douglas, Democratic Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, and Independent former state Human Services Commissioner Con Hogan.
All are unopposed on their respective tickets, and if none receives a majority in November, it will be up to the Legislature in January to decide who will be the next governor.
Maine has already held its gubernatorial primary. On June 11, U.S. Rep. John Baldacci topped the Democratic ticket and will run against Republican nominee state Rep. Peter Cianchette in the November general elections.
Massachusetts doesn't hold its primary until Sept. 17. Republican Gov. Jane Swift, who inherited the job and gained fame as the first governor to give birth in office, has bowed to party pressure and stepped aside to give former Winter Olympics boss Mitt Romney an unchallenged shot at the GOP nomination.
Romney, who touts his success in cleaning up the Winter Olympics, will be challenged by the winner of the Democratic primary. Four candidates are seeking that nomination -- state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, former Clinton Cabinet Labor Secretary Robert Reich, state Senate President Tom Birmingham, and former state Sen. Warren Tolman.
O'Brien is the Democratic primary front-runner in the polls, but Romney leads all four Democrats.