Looking Ahead To '98 Gubernatorial Races In California, Florida
By Stuart Rothenberg
California Governor Gov. Pete Wilson (R) is unable to seek re-election, so the open seat will draw heavy interest in the state and heavy media coverage nationally. The GOP nominee is almost certainly going to be state attorney general Dan Lungren. A former member of Congress, he is expected to use crime as a key issue in his campaign.
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The Democratic race is more interesting, if only because there are more question marks. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who lost to Wilson in 1990, is toying with the idea of running for governor, and most insiders believe that she will ultimately decide to make the race. She would not be risking her Senate seat, which does not come up again until 2000.
In addition to Feinstein, at least three other Democrats are eyeing the race. Former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, who once served in Congress, has returned to California and reportedly is interested in the race. But it seems unlikely that he would take on Feinstein -- or that he could raise enough money to beat her in a primary. Panetta is credited with helping turn around the Clinton presidency, and he is widely respected in Washington. But he lacks a California statewide name ID.
The state's lieutenant governor, Gray Davis, looks like a near-certain candidate. Davis lost a bitter Senate primary to Feinstein in 1992, and he is much less likely than Panetta to concede the Democratic nomination to Feinstein. In spite of his statewide political experience, he isn't given much chance of defeating Feinstein or Panetta for the nomination.
The wild card in the race is businessman Alfred Checci, who is very interested in the race. The co-chair of Northwest Airlines, Checci could run as political outsider, and his huge personal financial resources would be a big advantage, especially since a new state campaign finance law makes fund-raising more difficult.
The election is particularly important because the person elected governor next year will serve during the period of congressional redistricting. Lungren is a credible GOP candidate, but Feinstein or Panetta would give the Democrats an excellent shot at gaining a governor.
Florida Governor Gov. Lawton Chiles (D) can't seek another term, and that gives the GOP a chance to pick up a governorship they expected to win in 1994.
The likely Democratic nominee will be Lt. Gov. Buddy McKay, a former member of the House of Representatives who lost narrowly to Connie Mack in the 1988 Senate race. McKay isn't regarded as a political powerhouse, and the names of a couple of other Democratic officeholders -- Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson -- are also mentioned.
The front runner for the GOP nomination is unsuccessful '94 nominee Jeb Bush, son of the former president and brother of George W. Bush, the governor of Texas. Critics point out that Bush lost his bid for governor even though a GOP tidal wave helped Republican candidates across the country in 1994. And Bush could face a primary struggle from Secretary of State Sandra Mortham, a more moderate Republican who is preparing a major statewide run. Insiders say that a Bush-Mortham ticket isn't out of the question, and the betting is that Mothram probably won't try to take on Jeb.
Democrats concede the state has become a good one for the GOP, but they also note that Bill Clinton carried Florida in November and Sen. Bob Graham (D), a former governor, is popular and will be running for re-election in 1998. Still, There is a decent chance that former president George Bush will have a couple of sons who are sitting governors after the 1998 elections.
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