Politics 2002Week of November 11

Alabama: GOP Finally Arrives

Forty years after Republicans nominated their first serious U.S. Senate candidate in businessman James D. Martin and he made national news by coming within nine-tenths of one percent unseating veteran Democratic Sen. (1938-68) Lister Hill, the Alabama GOP has finally come into its own in Alabama politics. In the closest-ever general election for governor, stalwart conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 96%) Bob Riley appears to have narrowly ousted Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman, who was dogged by scandals within his Administration and an unsuccessful effort to create a state lottery. The race will be automatically recounted. Further down on the ballot, Republican Bill Pryor was re-elected as attorney general without difficulty.

The Republican triumphs at the statehouse level were coupled with the landslide re-election of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the GOP retention of the House seats of outgoing Representatives Sonny Callahan and Riley, and enough gains within both the Democratic-ruled state senate and house of representative to thwart the longstanding control by the trial lawyers and the Alabama Education Association.

If there was any disappointment, it was the failure of former Republican Gov. (1986-92) Guy Hunt to win a comeback attempt in Cullman County. Hunt, convicted of campaign finance irregularities and removed as governor in 1992 but later triumphant before the State Parole Board, fell short of unseating trial lawyer-backed Democratic State Sen. Ted Little.

South Carolina: McMaster’s Great Day

Alabama was not the only state to be part of the new “solid South” (solidly Republican, that is). In South Carolina, 38 years after Strom Thurmond changed from Democrat to Republican, Rep. Lindsey Graham won the Senate seat relinquished by the venerable Thurmond and former Rep. Mark Sanford unseated Democratic Gov. James Hodges to become the fourth Republican since Reconstruction to be elected governor of the Palmetto State. GOPers also retained control of four of the state’s six U.S. House districts and both houses of the legislature and captured all statewide offices save that of comptroller general.

Among the victors was former State Party Chairman Henry D. McMaster, an architect of the South Carolina GOP’s strong grassroots organization, who, in winning the attorney generalship, proved that one could be a nuts-and-bolts man as well as a principled conservative. (McMaster backed fellow conservative Tom Pauken for Republican National Chairman in 1997 and supported an RNC resolution to ban party funds from going to candidates who opposed a ban on partial birth abortions.) Last week, McMaster, who had lost bids for U.S. senator and lieutenant governor, was elected AG in a landslide on a solid conservative platform.

Texas: Still Bushland

The strong show of support for favorite son George W. Bush among Texans in races for governor, U.S. senator, and Congress extended down the ballot. Lone Star State Democrats did not make a dent in statewide offices-all of which went Republican four years ago when then-Gov. Bush won re-election. This time, Republicans held onto the lieutenant governorship that Rick Perry relinquished when he succeeded Bush as governor by electing State Land Commissioner David Dewhurst to the state’s No. 2 office. Replacing Sen.-elect John Cornyn as state attorney general is fellow Republican and former State Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, who now becomes the nation’s only statewide official confined to a wheelchair.

Along with retaining its majority in the state senate, the GOP also took a majority in the state house for the first time since Reconstruction. State Rep. Tom Craddick of Lubbock, a strong conservative, is expected to be the GOP choice for speaker.

Kansas: Conservatism Blossoms

As despondent as Kansas conservatives were over the victory of Democrat Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius in the gubernatorial bout with Republican Tim Schallenberger (who won the primary over the choice of the moderate GOP establishment), they did have something to cheer about. Phill Kline, a former state legislator and conservative radio talk show host, was elected attorney general in a cliff-hanger against Democrat Chris Biggs. Kline, who narrowly lost a bid for Congress two years ago to Democrat Dennis Moore, is already being boomed as the likely opponent in ’06 to Sebelius.

Illinois: Fitzgerald, Beware

For only the third time since World War II, Illinois Democrats won the governorship. Chicago-area Rep. Rod Blagojevich, one of only two members of Congress of Serbian ancestry (the other is Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich), rolled up 56% of the vote over State Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan, who spent much of the campaign telling voters he was not related to scandal-tarred lameduck Gov. George Ryan, also a Republican.

Along with Blagojevich’s triumph, Prairie State Democrats swept all of the statewide offices, including the race to succeed Ryan as attorney general, in which State Sen. Lisa Madigan, daughter of powerful house Speaker Mike Madigan, edged out DuPage County prosecutor Joseph Birkett, a conservative Republican. Democrats retained their hold on the state house and took the senate with 33 seats to the GOP’s 27.

The results portend an all-out Democratic offensive against Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald when he seeks re-election in two years. In the eyes of a number of conservatives, Fitzgerald has cast too many liberal votes, so he will start the race with less than a solid base. Among the Democrats already discussed as possible opponents to Fitzgerald are Attorney-General-elect Madigan and former Chicago Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, runner-up in the Democratic gubernatorial primary this year.

In a notable race for the state legislature, Democrat Warwick Stevenson was beaten two-to-one in the historically Republican 89th District (Stevenson and Winnebago Counties) vacated by retiring GOP State Rep.Ron Lawfer. A former teacher and school principal, the 40-year-old Stevenson is the son of former Sen. (1970-80) Adlai Stevenson III (D.-Ill.) and grandson of the late Gov. (1948-52) and two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson. He was defeated by Republican Jim Sacia, a former FBI agent.

Michigan: Fall-Out

The curtain closed on the 12-year reign of Republican Gov. John Engler and the results last week spelled a whole new era for Michigan Republicans. As expected, Democratic Atty. Gen. Jennifer Granholm-canonized by liberal publications such as the Washington Post and the New Republic-became the state’s first woman governor by rolling up 57% of the vote against Engler’s close ally, Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus. So intense was the media cheerleading for Granholm that a Mitchell poll conducted for Posthumus on election eve showed him drawing only 80% among Republicans and 62% among pro-life voters (Granholm is pro-abortion). Democrats also won the lieutenant governorship.

But Republicans did have reasons to celebrate. Former Kent County (Grand Rapids) Clerk Terry Lamb won the open position of secretary of state against Democrat Melvin (Butch) Hollowell, a Detroit lawyer who was part of Al Gore’s legal team in Florida two years ago. In addition, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor and strong conservative Mike Cox won a nail-biter of a race for attorney general, edging out Democrat State Sen. Gary Peters. Republicans also maintained their majorities in both houses of the legislature and won a 9-to-6 advantage in the state’s U.S. House delegation.

Amid rumors that the Michigan GOP has been running in the red for the first time since 1982 and that its debt is over $1 million, a major battle for the state GOP chairmanship is predicted for the next convention in January. With incumbent Chairman Rusty Hills insisting he will run again, other possible candidates include Paul Welday, longtime top aide to Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich), former state party executive director and Engler antagonist Greg Brock, and GOP National Committeeman Chuck Yob (whose political consultant-son John help orchestrate Land’s statewide victory).

Minnesota: House of Humphrey Falls

“Mondale” was not the only historic name in Minnesota to fall short at the polls last week. Hubert H. (Buck) Humphrey, IV, namesake grandson of the senator, Vice President, and 1968 Democratic presidential nominee and son of the former state attorney general and gubernatorial nominee of the same name, was narrowly defeated for secretary of state. As Gopher State voters were electing Republicans as governor and U.S. senator, they re-elected incumbent Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer over young Humphrey-former U.S. Department of Agriculture official in the Clinton Administration and head of the Gore-Lieberman campaign in Minnesota two years ago.