Confused Electorate Headed For The Polls

November 06, 1990|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

As voters head for the polls today, they do so confused over who they want to represent them and how much in taxes they want to pay for county services.

The latest opinion polls on the county executive race and a ballot measure to limit property taxes show that voters could go either way, with "undecided" gaining the most favor in recent weeks.

A poll released Sunday by The Sun showed Democratic county executive nominee Theodore J. Sophocleus leading Republican Robert R. Neall, 42 to 36 percent. But support for both men has lost ground since a Sun poll a month ago, with 22 percent of likely voters now undecided -- up from 14 percent.

Similarly, on a ballot measure to cap the growth of county property tax revenue, voter support has fallen by 21 percentage points to 45 percent and opposition has climbed 5 point to 31 percent. But the number of undecided has grown from 8 percent to 24 percent.

Republicans see an opportunity today to capitalize on perceived discontent with eight years of Democratic monopoly over the County Council and executive seats. Democrats believe they have fielded a slate of community-based candidates who will be rewarded for service to their constituents.

Local leaders of both parties maintain that the higher the turnout at the polls, the better their nominees will do.

Only 28 percent of county Republicans voted in the primary, which former House Minority Leader Robert R. Neall won against nominal opposition from an advocate of legalizing slot machines.

But Laura Green, interim chairwoman of the county GOP Central Committee, said yesterday that a large turnout today will help Neall because hotly contested general elections here usually produce heavy crossover voting.

In a county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3-to-2 margin, crossover voting is crucial to the GOP. But that gap has narrowed substantially since the 1970s, when Democrats maintained a 3-to-1 advantage.

Coupled with the anti-tax measure, the shift in registration has produced what Green called "part of the anti-incumbent fever" that has swept over the county, state and nation.

Ballot Question D would limit growth in county property tax revenues to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Its predicted effect, if passed, has become muddled in the past month, and the state Court of Appeals will likely decide whether taxes on new development would fall under the growth cap.

"You have a group of people who are unhappy with their taxes and they decided to do something about it," Democratic Central Committee chairwoman Mary Anne Love said yesterday.

But with the Maryland State Teachers Association conducting a $200,000 advertising campaign against the measure and a similar drive in Baltimore County, Love said she expects the effort to fail in Anne Arundel.

She said, however, that Sophocleus, a two-term county councilman from Linthicum, has not been hurt by the tax revolt, since his candidacy has strong community support.

"I think the Democrats are united this time," Love said. "We've really worked hard as a team and Ted has one great team of volunteers helping him."

Early polls this year suggested Sophocleus had little chance of winning, with less than a fourth of voters recognizing his name and barely half of those having a favorable impression of him.

Neall, who missed election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 by only 428 votes, was considered almost invincible, with nearly universal name recognition as the state's first drug policy coordinator. He has run a strong issues-oriented campaign, tying his reputation as a budget cutter to discontent over taxes.

But Sophocleus -- whose campaign image is exemplified by a yellow life-size "Teddy" bear looming over a highway in Pasadena -- has made up a lot of ground stressing community commitment, Green said.

"He obviously has run a very successful campaign," she said. "He's gotten his message across. He's gotten his image across and made it a photo finish."

Green said she feels most confident that Republican Diane Evans will win election to the District 7 council seat.

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