Maryland's Republicans are marching into this year's general election confident that they will gain a congressional seat, break the Democratic lock on county executives and pick up some small but significant gains in legislative and courthouse races.
Perhaps a more important point for the future, Joyce L. Terhes, the GOP state chairman, sees the gains as laying the foundation from which her party can provide stronger competition to the long dominant Democrats in the next decade. With registration gains favoring Republicans, they expect to ratchet up a few places to be able to provide competitive candidates statewide.
One of the best chances for Republicans is their 1st District nominee, Wayne T. Gilchrest, who easily won an eight-candidate primary to move into a rematch with the troubled Democratic incumbent, Rep. Roy Dyson. "From Kennedyville to Capitol Hill," shouted one of Gilchrest's volunteers election night. "We'll win a third member of Congress," Dr. Allan Levey, the former party chairman, flatly predicted.
"It was close in 1988 when the party was in disarray," said Terhes. "Now you have a party behind Gilchrest, a Purple Heart )) veteran against a conscientious objector."
Gilchrest has more experience and he is sure to get strong financial backing from national Republican resources. A strategy meeting between Gilchrest, some of the losing candidates, as well as state and national officials is set for Saturday.
Howard County GOP chairman Carol A. Arscott exuded optimism. "Take a look at Montgomery County," she said. "If we )) Republicans and [Charles] Chuck Ecker can do to Liz Bobo what Neal Potter did to Sid Kramer, we'll take control of county government." She was referring to the victory of the veteran county councilman, Potter, the slow growth advocate, over incumbent county executive Kramer in the Democratic primary. Potter's win was attributed to voter uneasiness over rapid growth that had clogged highways with traffic and strained public schools.
Like Kramer, County Executive Elizabeth Bobo has accumulated some negatives that GOP polls show run as high as 25 percent.
The GOP theme will be simple: "The Democrats made a mess of managing growth in Howard County." That issue, combined with growing Republican registration which has reduced the Democratic advantage to a 1.4-to-1 margin, is expected to help turn Howard into a two-party county. Arscott also predicted a pickup of two seats on the County Council and control of the House delegation that now divides 3 to 3.
The highest hopes in county executive races for the GOP is in Anne Arundel, where Robert R. Neall hopes to have some quiet Democratic support against that party's nominee, Theodore J. Sophocleus.
In Harford County, there is talk that backers of Barbara Risacher, who lost the county executive Democratic primary, to Del. Eileen Rehrmann, may swing over to Geoffrey R. Close, the GOP nominee.
The sleeper for the GOP is the Baltimore County executive race. Democrat Dennis F. Rasmussen seemed secure a few months ago. But a tax revolt, Democratic Party infighting, and some high negatives have convinced GOP leaders that he is vulnerable. "I think Roger Hayden can beat Rasmussen," said Richard Bennett, the county Republican chairman.
Privately some Democrats agree after watching two Rasmussen county council supporters, Dale T. Volz and Norman Lauenstein, lose primaries. There is talk that Hayden, who grew up in Sparrows Point, will get private if not open support from some Democrats in the eastern end of the county.
The GOP also has a secret weapon, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who has proved her popularity in Dundalk, Essex and other nearby communities. She could take Hayden by the hand in campaigning there. "I will help Roger," said Bentley. "I pledged long ago to turn Maryland into a two-party state and I'm staying on that path."
Many GOP officials were privately "ecstatic" over the defeat of Democratic Sen. Francis X. Kelly by the strong pro-choice challenge of Janice Piccinini, former head of the Maryland State Teachers Association. Kelly's loss broke up his longtime "unholy alliance" with Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, House Minority leader, in which they agreed not to run candidates against each other. "It blew up in their face," said one official. Many Republicans have disliked the cross-party ideological alliance because it hurt their party's chance to take the 10th District state Senate seat for the GOP.
The possibility that the "holding" GOP nominee in that district, Richard Cornwell, withdrew to allow either Sauerbrey or Del. Robert L. Ehrlich to be named by the central committee to challenge Piccinini in the general election was not looked on with enthusiasm by many officials.
Former chairman Levey thought it would be "a major mistake" because it would seem "a setup" to voters and would be resented. "They had better take a good look at the [Piccinini] vote," said another. There were other districts where Republicans could make gains, said yet another official, who objected to sleight of hand switches in candidates.