Dems Confident of Gubernatorial Gains

Though there has been a lot of hoopla over House and Senate races, the gubernatorial races are a key part of election 2002 and Democrats are feeling very confident about their chance to make big gains this season.

That hasn't stopped President Bush from making a last stand for several governors. While barnstorming in Pennsylvania on Friday, Bush made a pitch for long-shot Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher, who is running against former Democratic Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell for the governor's seat being vacated by Republican Mark Schweiker.

"You have a chance this Tuesday to make sure you put the right man in the governor's office. And, of course, that man is your current state attorney general, Mike Fisher," Bush told an enthusiastic crowd not far from the state capital.

Then, the president traveled to New Hampshire, where there is a big fight over a Senate seat. But the president still had time for Craig Benson, the front-running GOP candidate hoping to take back the governor's seat from Democrats against Mark Fernald.

"I've known Craig for a while, and you're about to pick a good one to be your governor," Bush said.

Governors implement many of the laws Congress passes and often exercise vast influence over presidential primaries and voter turnout in presidential elections. Throughout the 1990's Republicans dominated governors' mansions.

While Bush advisers know the president's efforts are helpful, they won't save the party on Election Day because the numbers are too weighted against them.

Republicans are defending 23 governorships. Democrats are trying to hold on to eleven. It appears the parties will split the governorships now held by independents in Minnesota and Maine.

"Right now, if our elections were held today, the Democratic Party would net five to eight new Democratic governors in this country — Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan — just to name a few," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Some of the key races, however, are leaning toward the status quo.

In Florida, incumbent Republican Jeb Bush has pulled away from Democratic attorney and campaign newcomer Bill McBride. Both agree it's Bush's race to lose.

In California, support for incumbent Gray Davis is in the low forties and a quarter of the electorate remains undecided. Republican Bill Simon, who has run a lackluster campaign, is within striking distance. Still, Davis is favored to win.

Some contests are more competitive, however, and could show a turnaround.

In Maryland, history will be made if Republicans win the governorship, which they haven't won since 1966. Republican Rep. Bob Ehrlich is running ahead of Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

The two have had only one debate, a raucous affair before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Townsend skipped a chance to debate Ehrlich on Friday.

"She should be here. There should have been more than one debate in this campaign. She should be here engaging a few days before election," Ehrlich said at a radio station interview Townsend repeatedly said she could not schedule into her calendar.

In Hawaii, history would also be made if former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle wins the seat over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono. Republicans haven't won that seat since 1962.

Democrats have also come from behind in several states that some questioned whether they could win. Races in Iowa and Alabama are closer than they initially seemed and Democrats seeking re-election in those states want to make them a certainty. Tennessee, New Mexico and Arizona all look like states in which Democrats can win seats left open by departing GOP incumbents.

In Minnesota, independent Gov. Jesse Ventura did not seek re-election and Vice President Cheney's hand-picked candidate, House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, has pulled ahead of independent candidate Tim Penny and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.

"Tim Pawlenty will be a leader for all Minnesotans, from the farms to the cities, and the president and I look forward to the day when we can call him 'Governor,'" Cheney said at a get-out-the-vote rally on Friday.

Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.