Rasmussen raises big bucks, but will that do the trick?

September 28, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen raised more than twice as much money at his $100-a-head fund-raiser last night than his Republican opponent hopes to raise during the election season.

But doubts remain as to whether the incumbent Democrat will have an easy time being re-elected.

The combination of a low voter turnout in the September primary, and the strong "turn 'em out" message from those who did vote left many veteran county politicians unwilling to guess what may happen in the Nov. 6 general election.

Two incumbent County Council members, Norman W. Lauenstein, D-5th, and Dale T. Volz, D-7th, lost their seats in the primary.

Last night, Vincent Gardina, the opponent of development who beat Lauenstein, a 16-year council veteran, joined Rasmussen and other Democrats on the podium. Donald Mason, who defeated Volz, did not attend.

Rasmussen himself seemed to signal a change in tactics as he addressed the crowd at the Towson Center. "It's time to take off the jacket," he said, removing his suit coat, "loosen the tie, roll up the sleeves and hit the streets!"

It was an uncharacteristic display of zeal and informality for Rasmussen, who is often derided by detractors for his formal dress and stiff appearance.

So far, Rasmussen, who was unopposed in the primary, has refrained from any aggressive campaign tactics, being content with a few radio ads.

But what looked like an easy re-election campaign six months ago has now been changed. Many voters are angry about rising property taxes and assessments and growing traffic congestion and complain of too much development in crowded, older neighborhoods of the county.

Councilman Ronald B. Hickernell, D-1st, a 12-year veteran who won a tough primary by a mere 500 votes, said he's met many supporters since then who told him they didn't vote because they didn't expect a close race.

If the 70 percent of the voters who failed to cast ballots in September also stay home in November, some political observers say privately that Rasmussen could have problems. Some also say privately his tactic of maintaining a low profile and his failure to aggressively fight the criticism of tax protesters that is a "big spender" could make his campaign even more difficult.

If campaigns are won with big money, though, Rasmussen should win in a cakewalk. His treasurer, Robert A. DiCicco, said 3,300 tickets were sold for last night's event. Campaign manager Robert Infussi said Rasmussen should net at least $265,000.

Added to the $300,000 the incumbent already has on hand, Rasmussen is well fixed financially to do battle with Roger B. Hayden, a political novice who hopes to raise $100,000 for his underdog campaign.

Rasmussen seemed cheered by the healthy turnout last night and the ringing endorsements of Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and the usual bevy of Democratic officeholders who attend such events. Dr. Ross Pierpont, unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor, and Larry Epstein, the GOP candidate for comptroller, attended. However, Gov. William Donald Schaefer did not appear.

"This election is much more than my re-election bid," Rasmussen told the crowd. "This election is about the very future of Baltimore County. There are some who want to turn back the hands of time and dismantle the responsive government we've built."

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