The politicians we like best are those running scared. After so many incumbents were defeated in the primary election, Baltimore County is filled with this breed of politician. That's because some very basic assumptions of Baltimore County politics are changing.
Anything can happen in November, particulary after yesterday's Court of Appeals reversal which will put a property tax referendum on the ballot.
For decades one of the basic assumptions in county politics was that at least 40 percent of the electorate would take the time to vote in primary elections. Last week, barely 29 percent bothered. When numbers get that low, chances for all kinds of unpredictable upsets suddenly increase. This is the lesson of the VTC primary. It could also become the chief lesson of the general election, unless more people can be mobilized to vote.
The stakes are particularly high for County Executive Dennis S. Rasmussen. Not only because he is seeking a second term but because crucial referendum issues are on the ballot. If the turnout is low, referendum issues important for the county's long-term well-being could be decided by unrepresentative groups of one-issue activists.
Democrats and Republicans should save no effort increase voter participation. Every vote counts more than before. Take the county executive race, for example. After the primary surprises, the contest between Mr. Rasmussen and GOP's Roger B. Hayden must be viewed in a totally different light. Not only did the primaries reveal quite a dose of anti-incumbent feeling, but -- Mr. Hayden, a former Democrat and an erstwhile Sparrows Point resident, conceivably could go after the east county power base that has been Mr. Rasmussen's fiefdom.
The big question mark now is the GOP. Will the party channel the kinds of resources for Mr. Hayden that the first-time office seeker must have to combat an incumbent's name recognition and the Democrats' continuing edge in voter registration?
The Republican Party's resolve to win will also be tested in two county council elections. In Towson's largely Republican Fourth District, the GOP's Douglas Riley has a real chance against the incumbent Democrat, Barbara F. Bachur. In Catonsville's First District, Republican Berchie Manley has an equally good chance of knocking off the incumbent Democrat, Ronald B. Hickernell.
Let pols beware; let voters become aware.