GOP govs cite economy in Nov. 5 wins

By HIL ANDERSON  |  Nov. 22, 2002 at 8:01 PM
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DANA POINT, Calif., Nov. 22 (UPI) -- While there may have been a growing unease over the economy among voters in this month's elections, Republicans running for governor had few worries about money as President Bush and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani cashed in on their public popularity for the good of the Grand Old Party.

Twenty-six governors and governors-elect basked in the glory of the GOP's impressive showing in the midterm elections Friday, and they were generous in their praise for the role that national fundraising played in the campaigns to win the hearts of voters at a time when the economy remained a major concern.

"An uncertain economy may have helped," Connecticut Gov. John Rowland told reporters at the Republican Governor's Association annual meeting held along the Southern California coast. "The voters looked at us as being more fiscally conservative (than the Democrats)."

Along with taking control of Congress, the Republicans also hold the governor's office in 26 states and boasted of solid gains in state legislatures, and the governors gathered in casual elegance at the plush St. Regis Monarch Beach Hotel in Orange County for two days of hobnobbing and golf gave credit to the influx of cash facilitated by the president and the mayor whose national profile skyrocketed in the wake of Sept. 11.

"The money is really important; thanks, big guy," Maryland Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich said with a laugh as he saluted the president and Giuliani for their fundraising efforts on his behalf.

While Ehrlich said his election hinged on crossover voting by Democrats and traditional Democratic voting blocs, he said it was campaign funding that allowed him to buy the television advertising needed for a "level playing field" against political veteran Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

"You can have the message and you can have the talent and the message, but if you don't have the dollars to compete, you aren't going to win," said Ehrlich. "Because of visits by mayor and the president...we were able to compete on a level playing field."

One state that remained in Democratic hands despite the efforts of Bush and Giuliani was California, where Democrat Gray Davis narrowly won re-election over rookie Bill Simon in a bruising campaign that ran nearly nine months.

Political pundits and insiders had scoffed at Simon's sometimes-sputtering campaign during the summer and there was speculation that Bush might distance himself from Simon and concentrate on other states. Bush, however, stuck by Simon.

"He worked his tail off," Rowland said. "He put all of his political capital on the table and worked extremely hard in the last few weeks of the campaign."

Unseating Davis would have been a feather in the cap of the Republicans, but Rowland saw the campaign as one that stripped Davis of much of his influence in state politics.

"He's not going to help any Democratic candidate and he is not going to hurt any Republicans," Rowland ventured. "He's about like a non-entity at this time."

In the meantime, some of the RGA governors saw a bright future for the party at the state level in the results of low-profile state office races.

"There are more Republican state legislators in the country than there are Democrats," said Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, vice chairman of the RGA. "A number of us came from the state legislatures. It is the farm team of future candidates, and we are doing very well, not only in the national races but in the statehouse races that are the building blocks of the future."

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