The nation's governors are meeting in Washington this week and they are not happy campers. Many of these governors came to office in 1994 and have run their states with nice surpluses. Now that has changed. The surpluses are gone, the federal government is being stingy and many state constitutions now require the governors to balance their budgets. Unlike the fed, they can't run deficits.
That leaves two solutions, both of which politicians hate: They can either raise taxes or cut services.
They come to Washington for the National Governors Association meeting united on a bipartisan proposal to get more money for their states for welfare reform. As the federal government shifted this and other programs to the states, governors, who like their autonomy, complain that they have not received adequate financing to run these programs. Medicaid funding is always on the agenda and this year so is more money for education. Republicans have made great headway with voters as the party that is best for education, but President Bush's budget has given Democrats a target to get the issue back.
In fact, Democrats are feeling pretty optimistic about their chances of recapturing a number of state houses this year and believe the issues and the political landscape favor them. There are 36 states holding gubernatorial elections and Republicans now hold 23 of them. Of the 18 open seats, Republicans have to defend 11.
The GOP had some big wins in the 1990s, but since 1999 the Democrats have been making a comeback. In 2001, despite the overwhelming popularity of President Bush and the overarching trauma of the September 11 attacks, Democrats won governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey. Their hope is that the issues that worked for them in the past – the economy, education and health care – will get them the majority of governors' slots in 2002. They also say these favorable factors have enabled them to recruit some good candidates, especially in the "red states" like Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Arizona, where national Democrats have fared poorly.
The Republicans, of course, think differently. They believe that, unlike 2001, President Bush will get involved in these races and that his popularity and his programs will help statewide candidates. The education issue has worked for them in the past and they believe tax relief and fiscal responsibility are also winning issues.
Most of the big states have gubernatorial races this year and many involve some big names. Here's a rundown of some states to watch:
The Big Four:
The M States
Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland and Maine all have lively contests with colorful candidates. In Minnesota, independent Gov. Jesse Vetura has been fighting again, but this time with the local media. His popularity is down and a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune poll had his re-election rating at 29 percent. He hasn't officially announced whether he'll run again. In Massachusetts, acting Gov. Jane Swift, dubbed "Calamity Jane" by the local press, should face a tough challenge in this strongly Democratic state. But the Democrats haven't solidified behind any one candidate and now former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has jumped into the fray.
In Michigan, the Democrats have a wealth of particularly strong candidates. Former Gov. Jim Blanchard, former House Minority Whip David Bonior and up-and-coming Attorney General Jennifer Granholm are in a tight race for the nomination to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. John Engler. Most believe that the Democrats have a good shot at taking back Michigan. In Maryland, Lt Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is in good position to become the first of her generation of Kennedys elected to statewide office, although the popular young mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley, is itching to get into the primary against her.
Finally, in Maine, Democratic Rep. John Baldacci has a clear primary field and a good shot at defeating whichever opponent emerges from the contested GOP race. But there are a number of independent and Green Party candidates looking to repeat the win of outgoing Independent Gov. Angus King.
There are also competitive races in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Charlie Cook, the respected election analyst, says it's "hard to see the Democrats not picking up some governors' mansions." The current lineup is 27 Republicans, 21 Democrats and two independents. But Cook thinks that even if the Democrats wind up with the majority, it won't be a huge one.
This week, the governors and some gubernatorial challengers will be in Washington raising money, lobbying and trying out their messages for the fall. Usually these NGA meetings are very substantive, but this year there's likely to be plenty of politics mixed in.
E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points
A veteran of the Washington scene, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch provides an inside look at the issues and personalities shaping the political dialogue in the nation's capital and around the country.