The Lazarus Syndrome

November 08, 1990

Arne Carlson lost the Republican nomination for governor in Minnesota in September. Then when the winner withdrew from the race in late October because of a sex scandal, Mr. Carlson was quickly chosen as a replacement -- and defeated the Democratic incumbent on Tuesday. He compared himself to Lazarus, the Biblical character who rose from the dead. There was a lot of that going around.

Florida Democrat Lawton Chiles was thought to have buried his political career after announcing in 1987 that he was burned out as a U.S. senator -- and then when it was revealed he was being treated with drugs for serious depression. But he defeated Gov. Bob Martinez Tuesday.

Ann Richards, given up for dead weeks ago in Texas, even by her own aides, beat Republican Clayton Williams to become the most liberal Democrat ever elected to statewide office in Texas.

Mr. Chiles is a relatively liberal Democrat, too, and these two wins in these two large and important states are being interpreted to mean Tuesday's governors races were a huge Democratic victory. We'd say over-interpreted. That Democrats won in big Sun Belt states that will gain seven congressional seats in the 1990s is important. Governors have a lot to say about redistricting. But it's just as important that Republicans held onto California, where Sen. Pete Wilson defeated Dianne Feinstein. California also will gain seven seats and its congressional delegation will equal those of Texas and Florida combined.

It is also important that Republicans held onto Illinois' governorship and gained Ohio's and Michigan's. Those three states are losing two seats each in Congress -- but combined will still be larger than Florida and Texas in the 1990s. Also recaptured by the GOP: Massachusetts, as moderate William Weld beat conservative John Silber, a potential trouble-maker in Democratic ranks.

The governors' contests netted no gain or loss for Democrats, two losses for Republicans and two wins for independents. Practically a stand-off.

Some Republicans say this election was a victory for the party and President Bush. We think that is over-interpretation, too. He lost a lot of points in this campaign. He invested a lot of time and prestige in trying to win the gubernatorial races in Florida and Texas. Many of the congressional candidates he campaigned for also lost, including an incumbent representative who was ousted by a socialist. His campaign swings in late campaign resulted in 14 losses and only eight wins overall. That doesn't help him for 1992.

Finally, in the nation's second biggest state, Gov. Mario Cuomo got barely over half the vote against nuisance opposition; exit polls showed half of New York's voters find him un-presidential.

But as we say, candidates can and do come back from being dead.


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