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Voters and Their Economies: The East's Big Issue, Peripheral out West

Pundits once said this election would turn on the abortion issue. But the federal budget fiasco, rising unemployment in the East, and the clash between industry and the environment out West are proving the stuff of stump speeches and voter wrath.

Pacific Northwest THE Northwest enjoys a relatively strong economy, and that should be good news for incumbents running for reelection.

For some - like Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus of Idaho - boom times are a major factor in almost certain reelection.

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But there are two complicating factors that have made several races here real cliffhangers. First, much of the region's economy is tied to the timber industry, which has an uncertain future. And second, incumbents come equipped with the federal budget deficit fiasco, which some analysts feel has contributed to the national economic slowdown.

Veteran Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield (R) is in the fight of his political life with Democratic businessman Harry Lonsdale. Mr. Lonsdale stresses environmental protection, a total ban on log exports, and job-retraining for displaced timber workers. Senator Hatfield (who gets much of his campaign contributions from forest-products companies) wants to protect timber supplies to preserve jobs.

Hatfield had a comfortable lead in the polls this past summer, but he's been overtaken by challenger Lonsdale. Even so, given uncertainty about the economy, many pundits now are stressing Hatfield's clout as senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the help he can send Oregon's way if a budget crunch hits.

Oregon's gubernatorial race also is likely to see a photo finish. The two major candidates - Secretary of State Barbara Roberts (D) and Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer (R) - are middle-of-the-roaders more alike than different on economic issues. Both emphasize economic diversity, help for small business, and development of Pacific Rim trade. Both say that the state finally needs a sales tax to offset property-tax reform.

Ms. Roberts has just squeaked past Mr. Frohnmayer in the polls. Hurting the Republican is conservative independent candidate Al Mobley, who points out that he's the only candidate opposed to a sales tax and strongly in favor of a Prop. 13-type property tax limitation measure on the ballot.

The Northwest has two of the most hotly fought congressional races in the country: In Oregon, Republican Denny Smith again faces challenger Mike Kopetski; and in Washington State, freshman Rep. Jolene Unsoeld faces charges from challenger Bob Williams, a Republican state representative, that she is an ``extreme environmentalist.'' In both races, timber-industry jobs, thousands of which may be lost to protect the northern spotted owl, is a major issue.

Brad Knickerbocker The Southwest

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POCKETBOOK issues, always volatile for voters in the Southwest, are emerging as a central theme in some races but only peripherally in others.

The region is showing variation in fortunes, from Nevada, where blackjack and booming retirement communities are helping turn it into the fastest-growing state in the country, to Arizona, where fallen savings and loans and moribund real estate are dominant images.

In California, fiscal issues are important but haven't proved pivotal; the two gubernatorial candidates, Sen. Pete Wilson (R) and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein (D), don't widely differ on them.

Mrs. Feinstein supports ``Big Green,'' a sweeping environmental initiative. Senator Wilson does not, in part because he believes it would yield too much power to an environmental ``czar'' and in part because of concern about its economic impact.

If new revenues were ever needed, Feinstein has indicated she would close tax loopholes and raise levies only on the rich. Wilson has said he would look at increasing user fees. He has all but ruled out an income tax hike. The race is dead even.

In Arizona, the economy ``has exploded as an issue,'' says Earl de Berge of the Rocky Mountain Poll.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Fife Symington has tried to tag his Democratic opponent, Terry Goddard, as a tax-and-spend liberal. Mr. Goddard, the former mayor of Phoenix, portrays Mr. Symington as an insensitive developer.

One key issue is a ballot measure that would boost state spending for education. Goddard supports it; Symington doesn't. Goddard leads by 8 to 10 points.

New Mexicans are concerned about the future of the economy in the face of defense cuts. The state harbors two national laboratories and several military bases. Both gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Bruce King and Republican Frank Bond, stress the need to diversify. King maintains a comfortable lead.

In Nevada, analysts expect acting Gov. Bob Miller (D) to triumph in his bid to keep his job. Mr. Miller has compiled a record as something of an environmentalist. He has strong backing from the gambling industry.

GOP challenger Jim Gallaway has criticized Miller for proposing a state payroll-tax plan to help fund education.

Interesting to watch: state legislative matchups. Each party now controls one chamber, but, conceivably, they could switch hands. Reason: a deep anti-incumbent mood, spawned by state lawmakers' passage (and later recision) of a 300 percent increase in their pensions.

Scott Armstrong Ag and Industry

THE economy as an election issue doesn't play in Midwestern states, which have yet to feel squeezed by rising fuel prices and falling manufacturing sales.

Jeff Barnes, press secretary for Nebraska Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Nelson, dismisses the idea of the economy as a ``predominant issue.''

Rick Cloyd, GOP chairman for Peoria County, Ill., notes that the city of Peoria has experienced a reverse in its declining-population trend. Caterpillar and other local companies have staged a comeback. And last year was the best in 10 years for residential construction.

In Iowa, unemployment is down to 3.9 percent from over 8 percent in 1983. Personal income in the second quarter rose 4.5 percent from the same period last year. Public school enrollment is up for the second year in a row, pointing to population growth. September nonfarm employment was the highest ever for that month.

``Recession? Yeah,'' says Dick Vos, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad (R). ``Iowans are well read about what's going on around the country and concerned about what effect it may have on Iowa.''

If a recession comes, however, the state is far better prepared to weather a recession than it was six years ago. All of Iowa's economic indicators still point up, Mr. Vos says, noting that state revenue is 7 percent higher than last year.

Without an economy to save, candidates throughout the region have rallied around tax-and-spend issues, environmental projects, state lotteries, education, abortion, nuclear-waste dumps, and the budget fiasco in Washington.

Democrats like to portray President Bush as seeking to shape the budget compromise to benefit the rich.

It's ``a current event issue that's had an effect on the state race'' in Ohio, says Mark Gearan, executive director of the Democratic Governors' Association.

Competing for the Ohio governorship are Republican George Voinovich and Democrat Anthony Celebrezze. Mr. Voinovich has tried to criticize the state economy ``simply because a Democrat is in office,'' a Celebrezze aide says. But his theme, that ``Ohio has not fully shared in the nation's economic growth of the 1980s,'' seems less than rousing.

In Illinois, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Neil Hartigan has vowed to slash state spending, while GOP candidate Jim Edgar wants to continue a tax surcharge to help fund education.

In Nebraska's Boyd County, where a contractor plans to site a low-level nuclear-waste facility that would serve five states, Republicans angered at Gov. Kay Orr's support for the plan endorsed Mr. Nelson, her Democratic opponent.

Mr. Barnes also says that under Governor Orr, the state's cash reserves have risen to $300 million from $40 million. ``That's taxpayer money sitting in state coffers doing nothing.''

Scott Pendleton The South

IN the South, the regional economy has not been a big campaign issue.

That's partly because of the nature of Southern politics, partly because the region has so far escaped the cold winds of recession. Florida seems almost immune to the prospects of a national slowdown. And for the oil-producers in Texas and Louisiana, the future looks fairly bright.

Thus, in the hottest statewide races in the South, voters are focusing on other issues, particularly on the candidates' campaigning styles and personalities.

Texans, for example, are in the middle of a personality clash between gubernatorial candidates Clayton Williams (R) and Ann Richards (D). Both candidates suffer from very high negative ratings.

``It seems to be image and style rather than economics'' driving the race, says Tucker Gibson, a pollster and political science professor at Trinity University in San Antonio.

In the Florida governor's race, economic issues have been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Democratic nominee Lawton Chiles. The former US senator gave up his seat in 1989 saying he was burned out, but then jumped into the governor's race early this year.

The one economic issue visible throughout the campaign has been taxes, says Thomas R. Dye, a professor of government at Florida State University. GOP Gov. Bob Martinez has campaigned on his opposition to new taxes and has chided Mr. Chiles for not taking a similar stand.

But the governor's credibility continues to be hurt by a flip-flop over a sales tax on services; first he supported it, then he opposed it. Chiles leads slightly in the polls.

The North Carolina Senate race, meanwhile, is a tossup. Three-term Republican Sen. Jesse Helms is campaigning on his opposition to taxes and what he perceives as government funding of pornography.

He faces his toughest race yet against Harvey Gantt, the former mayor of Charlotte, who stresses education and the environment.

In Alabama, Gov. Guy Hunt (R) is locked in a tight race for reelection against Paul Hubbert, a state teachers' union leader. Mr. Hubbert has the advantages of having several labor groups working for him and of being a Democrat in a heavily Democratic state. But Governor Hunt is very popular.

Laurent Belsie Mid-Atlantic States

THE sparkle is off the normally fast-growing mid-Atlantic region.

``Whether we are technically in a recession or not is almost academic at this point,'' argues Charles Emrich, an economist with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. ``A lot of industries such as financial services, construction, and manufacturing are starting to suffer and unemployment is rising.''

And the economic slowdown here is expected to have a ``multiplier effect,'' since so many companies along the Atlantic Seaboard are linked to the New York market, Mr. Emrich says.

Clearly, say experts, if there is any political beneficiary in terms of the economic slowdown, it will be the Democratic Party - which traditionally bills itself as the ``party of the people'' in this fast-paced, go-go region of smokestack industries, gleaming skyscrapers and jammed subways full of working folks and new immigrants.

That is not to say that an anti-incumbent mood is not evident. It is, from New Yorkers outraged at the high cost of living here, as well as in neighboring New Jersey, where voters are reeling from some $2.8 billion in new sales and income taxes recently pushed into law by the administration of Democratic Gov. James Florio.

Still, voters are not expected to take their ire out on most incumbents. Most, say analysts, should be reelected.

One close call: Carol Bellamy, a Democrat and former New York City Council president, is mounting a very serious challenge to New York State Comptroller Edward V. Regan, a Republican.

The big question is whether Republicans can hold on to New York's state Senate, which they control by a slim margin. Democrats are expected to retain the lower house.

If the GOP losses the Senate, Democrats will be able to control redistricting in the early 1990s, since New York State is expected to lose three congressional seats based on US Census returns.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, popular Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley is expected to retain his seat, defeating Republican challenger Christine Todd Whitman.

Up until the enactment of the Florio-tax package this year, Senator Bradley had been the most popular officeholder in the Garden State. Polls show the former New York Knicks basketball star losing some ground to Ms. Whitman, based on voter outrage over rising taxes. He is, nonetheless, expected to win easily. Guy Halverson New England

WHEN New Englanders enter the voting booth Nov. 6, most will be reacting to the region's sagging economy.

After a decade of unparalleled growth, the area's sudden economic downturn has left voters frustrated over rising unemployment, a collapsing real estate market, and budget deficits in all six states.

``The biggest and obvious factor concerning voters is the major slowdown taking place,'' says Peter Kozel, finance professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. ``The issue is, how bad is it going to get ... and is the government responsible?''

The feeling of discontent has had a decided impact on the political outlook for election day: All three New England Democratic gubernatorial incumbents have chosen not to run and the three incumbent Republicans are facing attacks on their economic policies.

A Boston Globe poll yesterday showed that 63 percent of New Hampshire believe taxes and the economy are the most important campaign issues.

Frustration in the Bay State is acute, where the ``Massachusetts miracle'' has gone bust. Voters have blamed the state's deficit crisis on the legislature and the so-called ``tax and spend'' policies of Gov. Michael Dukakis (D). Anger was evident after last month's primary when the two major party endorsees were rejected in favor of two outsiders.

Bay Staters can also take their frustrations to the ballot box by voting on a controversial tax cutting referendum question. Question 3 would roll back all taxes and fees to 1988 levels. Opponents say it will deal a devastating blow to important state programs. Supporters argue the measure will force needed spending cuts - a task they say the legislature, after months of budgetary bungling, couldn't do.

While economists debate whether the the nation is now experiencing a mild recession, New England already has the numbers to prove that it is experiencing hard times. In the first quarter of 1989, the region's unemployment was at 3.3 percent, well below the national average. But in August 1990 it jumped to 5.7 percent, compared with the nation's 5.4 percent.

Economists say a number of factors have contributed to the slowdown. The decrease in the nation's military budget has taken its toll in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where many of the nation's defense firms are based. The slowdown of the financial-services and high-tech industries is likewise effecting the region.

``The nature of the job loss and the economic output loss has been more severe than any other area of the country,'' says Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

As for other economic issues, New Hampshirites will get a chance next month to vote on the state's sky-high property-tax rate. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joseph Grandmaison is campaigning on tax reform by lowering the property tax. While New Hampshire has the highest property tax of any state, it has virtually no sales or income tax.

Elizabeth Ross

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