With one weekend of campaigning left, Maryland's 1990 election promises some but not substantial change for the next four years. Democrats once more should dominate though Republicans believe they will make some gains in county executive races and in the General Assembly. Voters seem ready to send a special message by approving caps on property taxes in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer may not be happy about a reduced majority for a second term victory but a victory in the order of 65 percent to 35 percent, give or take a few percentage points, should be regarded as an excellent showing. Elsewhere in the country, governors have been dropping out or running for cover.
In the governor's case, the contest hasn't been between Schaefer and the team of Bill and Lois Shepard, but a referendum on the incumbent's performance as well. For all the money he spent, the start of his campaign was poorly conceived.
The job of the incumbent is to tell his or her story, how much the term in office has meant to Washington County, for example. The failure of Schaefer to put his story over has meant that anti-Schaefer sentiment grew from a mild grumbling to a loud growl. One Western Maryland Democrat suggested privately yesterday that Democrats running in legislative districts in that part of the state would be better off without the governor's planned campaign appearances this weekend.
Though Edward L. Blanton, the Republican nominee for attorney general, raised some tough issues in the final weeks of the campaign while incumbent Democrat J. Joseph Curran Jr. may have misspoken on the drug issue, few political analysts thought Curran was in danger of losing. In the comptroller's race, GOP challenger Larry Epstein hasn't been able to raise enough money to present a serious obstacle to Louis L. Goldstein's ninth consecutive victory.
What makes forecasting this year difficult is the expected distorted pattern of voter turnout next Tuesday. In Baltimore City, for example, there are no real legislative or judicial contests to attract local attention. Why vote? The turnout isn't expected to be greater than 25 percent. It may even be lower. This will hurt the governor who might be expected to pile up a big margin with a larger turnout.
With most races settled in the Democratic primary in both Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the turnout there is expected to be below average for general elections. Again, this hurts Schaefer.
The hot spots for this year are Western Maryland and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties. The contests for county executive in those four counties are close enough so that they could go either way. In Baltimore County, Republican expectations have shifted so that they rate a victory by Roger Hayden over incumbent Dennis F. Rasmussen as one of their best bets. Earlier in the year, they believed that their challenger in Anne Arundel County, Robert Neall, had an easy road to victory. Somehow, he has seems to have fallen behind Ted Sophocleus, a born-again populist.
Five state Senate races are still rated too close to call on the election's final weekend.
In the 1st District, Democrat Daniel F. McMullen, a former newspaper executive, has to overcome a GOP registration advantage of about 5,000 voters if he is to defeat Republican John J. Hafer, a Frostburg funeral director and political novice. McMullen would become the first Democrat to represent Garrett County in decades if he wins a gentleman's race that has centered on who is more qualified to go to Annapolis and local issues such as non-tidal wetlands regulations on farm ponds.
State Sen. Patricia Cushwa is reported closing the gap on GOP Del. Donald Munson in the 2nd District. The race is said to be a tossup. And Carroll County's tough contest between Democrat Jeffrey Griffith and Republican Larry Haines is also expected to go down to the wire. GOP Del. John Leopold had a large lead in May in his attempt to knock out Democratic state Sen. Phil Jimeno in Anne Arundel County's 31st District. That has shrunk, so that turnout may determine the winner. In Howard County's 14th District, Democratic state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer defeated GOP challenger Christopher McCabe by less than 3,000 votes in 1986. With increased Republican registration, McCabe's second efforts looks promising but the race remains close.
In a half-dozen legislative districts, incumbent delegates are in closely contested races. These are scattered over the state but one of the most difficult to figure is in Baltimore County's 9th District, which centers on Towson. Four years ago, GOP Del. Martha Klima led the field, finishing well ahead of Democrat Michael Gisriel and Republican John Bishop. Those three incumbents have campaigned hard but not harder than a touted and talented newcomer, Gerry Brewster, who finished first in the Democratic primary. Klima has lost some endorsement support and is opposed by pro-choice forces but promises "to blow them away as I have in the past."