Maryland voters go to the polls today to pick party nominees for the four major statewide offices, to settle yet another intraparty dispute for the GOP and to write another chapter in the struggle between groups favoring and opposing abortion.
A turnout of no more than 35 percent was predicted by the state's chief elections officer, Gene Raynor. That figure would be down 9 points from the 44 percent who voted in the last party primary in 1986, when there was a heated Democratic gubernatorial contest between William Donald Schaefer and Stephen H. Sachs.
Good weather was predicted for primary day, but Mr. Raynor did not expect that would be enough to overcome the lack of closely contested statewide races. Abortion would stimulate some voters, he said, but in other years there have been a wider range of issues and candidates pulling out the vote.
The menu of 1990 campaigns in Maryland includes a well-publicized fight for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st District, where the turnout could be higher than in other parts of the state. Democrats in the 13-county district that runs from Cecil County in the northeast, through the Eastern Shore to the southern reaches of the state, will have a clear choice between the embattled Democratic incumbent, Representative Roy P. Dyson, and Delegate Barbara O. Kreamer, D-Harford. Eight candidates are vying for the Republican nomination.
Several hard-fought campaigns for county executive -- in Harford and Anne Arundel counties, for example -- could make voting brisk in those areas.
And several state Senate races dominated by the abortion issue may also yield results that run counter to the general lack of interest sensed by Mr. Raynor. Nevertheless, he said, overall participation by Maryland's 2,107,000 voters will likely be low.
Of the more than two million voters in Maryland, 1,332,000 or 63 percent are Democrats. Republicans, with 607,000 and climbing in recent years, now constitute 29 percent.
Democratic Governor Schaefer, 68, seeking what could be the last term in his long career of public service, is expected to bury Frederick W. Griisser, 36, the real estate agent and handgun rights advocate who has run a poorly financed, less than low-profile campaign.
Republican voters will address another split in their feuding party. They will choose between perennial candidate Dr. Ross Z. Pierpont, 72, and former U.S. foreign service officer William S. Shepard, 54.
Mr. Shepard had the GOP gubernatorial field to himself until he named his wife, Lois, as his running mate for lieutenant governor. Because Dr. Pierpont disliked the idea of a "one household ticket," hejumped into the race literally at the last minute. With name recognition accumulated via more than a dozenraces for public offices, Mr. Pierpont has been making a race of it though the Shepard team has been campaigning since January.
In Baltimore, Clarence W. Blount, Democratic majority leader in the state Senate, attempts to keep the seat he has occupied for 20 years. The 69-year-old veteran faces former Delegate Wendell H. Phillips.
In that same district, two former members of the House of Delegates, Walter R. Dean Jr. and Nathaniel T. Oaks, want a return ticket to Annapolis. They are in a race that pits them against incumbent Delegates Samuel M. Parham, Margaret H. Murphy and Frank D. Boston Jr. who are running on the Blount ticket.
Another incumbent, Sen. Troy Brailey, faces a bracing challenge from Delegate Ralph M. Hughes, a two-term delegate and author of the 1988 law limiting the availability ofhandguns in Maryland.
In Northeast Baltimore, Sen. John A. Pica Jr. won the backing and financial help of abortion-rights organizations as he campaigned against newcomer Martin O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley, who brought a more conservative position on abortion to the contest, was running with the help of his new father-in-law, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
The Pica-O'Malley race is one of those where the power of the abortion issue is being tested.
Several other Senate races have important consequences for future abortion fights in the state legislature where the abortion-rights side had hoped to elect a "filibuster-proof" Senate -- a goal that required them to have 32 of the 47 senators in their camp. This year, they had only 31 and lost a major effort to keep abortions widely available in the state.
One of the main tests is in Baltimore County's 10th District, where Sen. Francis X. Kelly, who led last March's anti-abortion filibuster, declared he was not a single-issue candidate and said he'd rather talk about his 12-year record than abortion. But his opponent, Janice Piccinini, would not allow it. A former president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, Ms. Piccininifocused her campaign on abortion and ran with endorsements and funds from abortion-rights groups.