1994 as a Prelude to 1996

February 03, 1994

Half the nation's governors are expected to run for re-election this year. For two Republicans, 1994 could be a trial run for a presidential bid in 1996.

One is Gov. Pete Wilson of California. His four years as chief executive have been a disaster in California, literally. There have been earthquakes, devastating forest fires, a terrible riot; and the state's economy, especially in the populous south, is still not rising out of the recession apace with most of the rest of the nation.

Governor Wilson said this week in Washington, where the National Governors' Association was meeting, that he should not be included on the presidential sweepstakes lists, because if re-elected he wants to focus on getting his state back on the road to better times. But if he does get re-elected, that feat alone will make him a prime presidential candidate in 1996. California is still the biggest electoral prize. For a governor to be re-elected there on any record, but especially on this one, would strongly suggest national appeal.

Across the continent in Massachusetts, moderate Gov. William Weld is running for re-election in a state that is as Democratic as Maryland -- and more liberal. His election four years ago was a surprise to many there. But he has reduced spending, cut taxes and balanced the budget in a state that many thought was in a fiscal free fall. Governor Weld did this with a Democratic legislature, and he has remained popular enough to scare off challenges from Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy among others. A Weld landslide is bound to thrust him into the front ranks of Republican presidential contenders.

Four of the last five presidential elections have been won by a governor -- or an ex-governor. In fact, it was their lack of responsibilities that allowed out-of-office Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 to out-campaign their opponents for their parties' nominations.

So in addition to Governors Weld and Wilson, ex-Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee also must be taken very seriously as he travels around the country campaign-style. So must South Carolina's Gov. Carroll Campbell. He is the chairman of the National Governors' Association. He is Bill Clinton's favorite conservative, and likely to do quite well in Southern primaries should he choose to run. He is known to be ambitious and, since he is ineligible to succeed himself after two terms ending this year, would be able to start early and campaign full time.

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