With but three full weeks of campaigning left before the Nov. 6 general election, the number of competitive races between Democrats and Republicans has shrunk dramatically. It is down to a couple dozen races, no more than that.
On the statewide level, no one is predicting a loss for the Democratic incumbents publicly or privately, though the outcomes are expected to be closer than the one contested runaway race four years ago.
The campaign of William S. Shepard, the Republican nominee, to dethrone Gov. William Donald Schaefer is hard to find. Seriously underfunded and without a sharp focus to its effort, the team of Shepard and his wife, Lois Shepard, isn't expected to make a meaningful dent against Schaefer. The guessing is for an advantage to the governor of about 70-30 percent, which may not be enough to make him overjoyed, but that's a landslide by any other measure.
Mrs. Shepard performed well in her WCBM-AM radio "debate" with Lt. Gov. Melvin "Micky" Steinberg. Her attacks on the spending of the Democrats might have had a greater weight if she hadn't slipped about the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, the way the new Camden Yards stadium is financed and the way the legislature adopted its spending-affordability guidelines. It showed a lack of some fundamental knowledge of the way state government works. The GOP candidate did manage one zinger, suggesting that it would be nice to have a real family in the governor's mansion with a crib for the grandchildren.
The trouble with this sort of debate is the thinness of the listening audience. Even GOP headquarters in Annapolis couldn't tune it in.
Edward L. Blanton is shooting darts at Attorney General Joseph Curran, but it would be the longest shot if the Towson Republican made it a close race. The same can be said for Larry Epstein in the bid against Comptroller Louis Goldstein.
After the 1st District congressional race, where Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest has been reported running ahead of Democratic Rep. Roy Dyson, the brightest area for the GOP is in four of the six county executive contests. The tight races are in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties.
In legislative contests, few doubts remain about the results except in seven Senate races and eight House election districts. Those are the targets for the finish. On Wednesday, the top Democratic team went after GOP candidates in two Anne Arundel County races with a return to traditional campaigning. Led by the governor, they went to bolster Sen. Phil Jimeno, with heavy attacks on his challenger, GOP Del. John Leopold, and a tribute fund-raiser for their incumbent.
Sen. Mike Wagner, whose catering business is growing along with his emergence as the county Democratic leader, blasted Leopold as nothing more than a carpet-bagger. The governor said he used "nasty talk" in contrast to Jimeno's quiet and effective style.
County Executive James Lighthizer proved to be the heaviest gun. He praised Jimeno as "an honorable man, a good family man, an effective legislator, an honest and decent man," which he claimed was in contrast to his opponent.
"Leopold is a chameleon," Lighthizer charged. "He is an opportunist. He will tell anyone what they want to hear." Leopold, he concluded, was "not an honorable man."
Leopold released a May poll that showed him ahead of Jimeno by 17 points. GOP sources now say that has slipped to some 5 points, just about within the margin of error.
The surprise has been the county executive race, where the former House minority leader, Robert Neall, was expected to win with ease. Democrats now call it a tossup and some Republicans privately don't argue with that evaluation. Neall was supposed to have an advantage because he had quiet Democratic backing through many friends as well as his service as the "drug czar" for Governor Schaefer.
While Democrats weren't bashing Neall Wednesday, they were giving support to their nominee, Theodore Sophocleus, who is proving to be an adept campaigner. Schaefer endorsed Sophocleus, saying he was "closer to the people."
And Lighthizer, considered a Neall friend from their days together in the General Assembly, said he would endorse Sophocleus if he were asked. Neall's criticism of Lighthizer's administration may be hurting Neall.
The governor tells the story of the older woman who complained strongly to him that he wasn't doing his job. She accosted him personally, pointed her finger at his chest and asked why he hadn't had those potholes fixed in her alley. She may be the only one in the state who hadn't discovered that Schaefer wasn't the mayor any more.
Oh, yes, the Schaefer campaign picked up another bundle this week from builders in the Washington suburbs, reportedly about $60,000. It was another private and unpublicized affair.