GOP novice hopes for upset the second time around

On Maryland Politics

October 17, 1990|By Peter Kumpa

FOUR YEARS AGO, Martin G. Madden, a novice Republican, campaigned hard but lost a bid for the House of Delegates by 522 votes. He came that close to Del. William C. Bevan, an incumbent Democrat, and within 636 votes of Del. Susan R. Buswell, another Democrat, in District 13-B, which takes in parts of Howard and Prince George's counties.

This year, GOP leaders PeterKumpaare touting "Marty" Madden as their best candidate to turn a Democrat out of the legislature.

The shape of the contest has since changed. Buswell has left politics. Robert J. DiPietro, a former mayor of Laurel and staff assistant to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, was appointed to fill Buswell's seat. And Republicans have come up with another strong campaigner, John S. Morgan, who joins with Madden in going for the two district seats.

Part of the GOP's optimism rests on the makeup of the district. Some 55 percent of the voters are in the Howard County portion, which starts around Ellicott City, runs south along Route 1 and then swings over to Scaggsville. Howard, which is home to both GOP challengers, has seen a surge in Republican registration.

The two Democrats live across the line in Prince George's County, which has 45 percent of the votes. Bevan was formerly the principal of Laurel Junior High School.

In the district as a whole, Democrats hold a 1.24-to-1 edge over Republicans, making it close to a competitive two-party system.

Republican confidence in Madden rests mainly in his tireless personal campaigning. Four years ago, Bus=well complimented him as "one of the hardest working candidates" she had ever seen. Madden, 41, an easy-talking, amiable insurance agent, has worked even longer and harder in this race. Last time, he didn't begin knocking on doors until July 1. This time he has been at it for more than a year and reached some 11,000 homes. No one was surprised when he won 45 percent of the vote in the GOP primary.

Last week, on a normal campaign day for Madden, he was up waving at motorists on Route 1 from 6:30 to 9 a.m. He spent the rest of the morning visiting citizens groups, then going door to door among businesses. By 5 p.m., he was again door-knocking, a task that would end only with darkness.

While some candidates go after only those of their own party, Madden makes his pitch to all registered voters. He hands out questionnaires trying to find out what is bothering voters, and asks for suggestions. "There's no substitute for door-knocking," he says.

For a workhorse Republican, Madden has a political heritage that should have made him a cheerleader for the Democratic Party. His mother's father was mayor of a small city in upstate New York and an early supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt. That helped her get a job in the mail room in Roosevelt's White House. Madden's father came to Washington from Ohio as a loyal Democrat. The Maddens were among the first families to move into that experimental New Deal town of the future, Greenbelt, Md.

Madden shifted to the Republican side while he was a student at Iona College in the turbulent '60s. Many of the Democrats, he found, were too senseless and extreme. Madden didn't jump right into politics. He was active in several civic projects but it was only after he moved to Howard County in 1983 that politics attracted him.

The main issue Madden has discovered in his neighborhood forays has been a "perceived mismanagement of growth." This can be everything down to minor zoning decisions that disrupt or inconvenience communities.

One of Madden's better issues is his promise to work for an ethics bill for both Prince George's and Howard counties. It would prevent council members from voting on zoning issues involving a developer who contributed to their campaigns. Madden charges that his Democratic opponents voted against such legislation for Prince George's County. Bevan counters that the legislation was not an ethics bill at all, merely a power grab by county senators.

The issue of abortion divides candidates of the two parties. Both Democrats are pro-choice. Madden favors restrictions. He concedes that the legislature probably will pass a pro-choice bill in the next session that will be signed by the governor. After that it will almost certainly go to referendum. "I will support the decision of the voters," says Madden.

Madden's most serious concern is voter turnout which was low in the GOP primary this year. And while overall Republican registration is close to that of the Democrats, among voters who are 50 and older -- traditionally the group most likely to vote -- Democrats still hold a 2.4-to-1 edge. Yet Madden remains confident that he can overcome even those odds.

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