More dialing than knocks in Baltimore Co. campaigns

October 08, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Gerry Brewster, a bright-eyed lawyer-candidate running for a seat to represent Towson in the Maryland House of Delegates, has had a routine for the past several months.

Since quitting his job, Brewster, a Democrat, began many a morning last summer at 7, standing near heavily traveled intersections with signs and a few hardy volunteers.

By 8:15 a.m., he'd go door to door, finding as few as two residents per block at home some weekdays. By lunchtime, he'd hit the supermarkets and Fridays were well spent in local banks. Saturdays, he'd gather a large group of volunteers and blanket a neighborhood.

His method seemed the exception. Not all campaigners eschew door-to-door campaigning. But, with so many households empty in this day of single parents and two-paycheck households, many candidates feel they can reach voters more effectively through targeted telephone sweeps and paid media.

Brewster, however, received 1,400 more votes in last month's primary than any other legislative candidate in the 9th District, Democrat or Republican, incumbent or newcomer. He and his campaign adviser attribute the result to old-fashioned shoe leather.

"Constituents need to see the candidate. They [the candidates] have lost contact with the people. That's what's been missing the last eight years," said Harold Long, a veteran of political work who helped Brewster organize his primary election effort.

Full-time door-to-door campaigning, however, is taking a definite back seat in many candidates' strategies.

Even Democratic candidate Vince Gardina, a former police officer who used a populist theme to upset Norman W. Lauenstein, a county councilman for 16 years, says he didn't campaign full-time. He did find time to rap on 12,000 doors, he said, evenings and weekends. Except for the few weeks prior to the primary, Gardina worked full time at his Bell-Atlantic computer programming job.

County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, running for a second four-year term, doesn't have a name recognition problem -- the prime remedy offered by a door-to-door campaign. Most people in Baltimore County have heard his name, even if they don't all like it.

Rasmussen campaign manager Robert M. Infussi said he is trying to organize neighborhood teams of volunteers to sweep areas identified by computer and voter lists as the homes of registered Democrats. Rasmussen, he noted, only needs to get out his party's vote to win in the heavily Democratic county.

Neither does Rasmussen's lesser known challenger, former county school board president Roger B. Hayden, have time to try to knock on every door as he runs his first campaign for public office in a county of 680,000 residents.

He has been spending most of his time finishing his work with George's Transfer Co., and attending evening meetings of small community and political groups and fund-raisers. He also is being interviewed by reporters and by special interest groups trying to decide which candidate to endorse.

Brewster, for his part, had saved money for years to allow him to resign last summer from his job on Rasmussen's staff to run for office full-time.

Even the weekday door-knocking that yielded only a few senior citizens were worthwhile, he felt, because he could spend more time with each person. "You just can't leave any stone unturned," the 33-year-old attorney said.

Del. Martha Klima, R-Balto. Co., an incumbent in the 9th District, believes Brewster's success, while partly due to hard street campaigning, was also due to a plentiful money supply and the time he has available to him. Incumbents, she said, must fulfill their job responsibilities, too, leaving less time for campaigning.

"This is a very walkable district," she said, agreeing to the viability of a door-to-door campaign in Towson.

Barbara F. Bachur, the county councilwoman from Towson and a 12-year Democratic incumbent, agrees that home visits are important if only to "let 'em know you're still there and still care."

But others lament the perceived decline of politicking on the street corners, at the neighborhood groceries, in the corner banks, what with the increased dependance on signs, media advertising and well-planned fund-raisers.

"You give me a credible candidate, hit the streets and pump the flesh and they'll have a chance," said Long, an aide to Rasmussen.

He lauds Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, as one of the few incumbents who still knows how to press the flesh. "Helen does everything. She's everywhere. She does the old-fashioned shoe leather campaign."

Voter registration

Information for the Nov. 6, 1990, general election. Deadline for registration: 9 p.m., tomorrow, Oct. 9. How to register: Fill out a registration application at the election board in your jurisdiction. Applications also are available at most state agencies and office buildings but must be postmarked no later than tomorrow, the registration deadline.

Who is eligible to register: Any U.S. citizen residing in Maryland who is or will be 18 years of age by Nov. 6, 1990, and who is not disqualified by a criminal record or under guardianship for mental disability.

Change of address: A resident who changes addresses and remains in the same jurisdiction must notify the election board in that jurisdiction. If a person moves to a new jurisdiction, he or she must reregister with the new election board.

* Baltimore City: 396-5550

* Anne Arundel County: 222-6600

* Baltimore County: 887-5210

* Carroll County: 857-2080

* Harford County: 838-6000

* Howard County: 313-2727

* State Election Board, Annapolis: 1-800-222-VOTE

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