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Recent Republican Victories Seen as Boosting Bush Re-Election Efforts - 2003-11-06

Republicans were the big winners in elections for governor this week. Republican candidates ousted an incumbent Democratic governor in Mississippi, and won an open seat in long Democratic Kentucky. Just weeks ago, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger became California's next governor, after voters removed incumbent Democrat Gray Davis from office. The trend has Republicans excited and Democrats worried.

Republicans solidified their grip on the south this week by capturing governor's races in Mississippi and Kentucky.

The Mississippi race was supposed to be close. But the former national chairman of the Republican Party, Haley Barbour, won a comfortable victory over feisty incumbent Democrat Ronnie Musgrove.

"Mississippi has some serious problems to address and solve. But we do not have any problems we can not solve, if we work together," he said.

Twenty-nine of the 50 state governors are now Republican, and many analysts see the party on an upward trend, just in time for President Bush's re-election effort next year.

Newsweek magazine political expert Howard Fineman appeared on NBC's Today

"Throughout the south, in the elections coming up, the Republicans are probably going to do very well," he said. "That is going to make it very difficult for the Democrats to win the election, if they can not at least make the Republicans fight for the south."

Democrats are alarmed by the trend, but appear confounded as to what to do about it. Historically, the southern states were a bastion of Democratic strength, and were essential for the election of Democratic presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.

But beginning in the late 1960s, southern whites began leaving the Democratic Party, and the south increasingly became an important region for Republican presidential candidates, like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

In the 2000 election, Democratic candidate Al Gore did not win a single southern state, not even his home state of Tennessee.

In presidential elections, a solid slate of Republican-leaning states in the south puts pressure on the Democrats to win almost all the larger states in the northeast and midwest, a difficult task, with much of the country nearly-evenly divided along partisan lines.

Despite the good news in this week's elections for Republicans, Democrats and some political analysts caution that the results are also a warning to political incumbents.

Ron Faucheux writes for Campaigns and Elections magazine. He told VOA television that incumbent officeholders from both political parties need to beware the wrath of voters, who hold politicians accountable for economic and budget problems.

"And governors all over the country, Republican and Democratic, have been very unpopular. So, voters have been looking for opportunities to replace incumbent governors, regardless of what party they are, with new governors," he explained. "So, this falls into that trend, as well. So, in terms of partisan politics, sure, it is good news for President Bush, but it does not really say that much about his next election."

Another problem for the Democratic Party's election prospects next year is the fact that four Democrat senators from southern states are retiring, offering Republicans the opportunity to further bolster their ranks in the south, and possibly increase their majorities in the House and Senate, as well.