Strong gains across state boost GOP Outsider' advantage pushed Republicans beyond expectations

November 08, 1990|By C. Fraser Smith S. M. Khalid and Peter Jensen of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Widespread voter protest propelled Maryland Republicans to an extraordinary breakthrough in Tuesday's election.

A rebuilding and growing GOP in Maryland was not expected to challenge Democratic officeholders effectively until the 1994 election.

But on Tuesday, the party won at many levels:

* Republicans were elected county executives in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. A Republican was leading in the county executive race in Howard County, which will be decided today by absentee ballots.

* Nine new Republicans were elected to the House of Delegates, moving the Republican total from 16 to 25 out of 141.

* Two new Republican state senators were elected, giving the party a total of nine out of 47.

* In seven counties, Republicans added at least one of their number to the county councils, taking control of at least three of them.

Voter anger drove these successes. But there were other important factors.

Across the nation, anger and resentment at politicians was sufficient for the most part to frighten -- not to defeat -- incumbent members of Congress.

In the local Maryland elections, apparently, incumbents lost because voters were more immediately affected by issues such as increasing property taxes and feelings that incumbents were arrogant, complacent or big spenders.

Republicans were the viable alternatives.

"It was finally to our advantage to be the outs," said Carol Hirschburg, a member of the Republican State Central Committee, campaign manager for Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, and a worker in the campaign of Republican Roger B. Hayden, who dealt Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen a crushing defeat.

The party exceeded its bravest expectations.

Republicans gained control of as many as three county governments -- vital power centers, whose executives gain power to raise campaign funds, dispense patronage and join in policy-making councils with Democratic colleagues.

The new executives will almost automatically be thought of as potential statewide candidates -- in short supply for the GOP in recent years. Conversely, GOP wins seriously damaged the political futures of Democrats such as Mr. Rasmussen.

Carol A. Arscott, the Howard County GOP chairman, said her party's wins will almost certainly make it easier to recruit more and better candidates because they will see that victory is possible.

Movement toward a more balanced two-party system in her county occurred, she said, because GOP candidates such as 26-year-old engineer John S. Morgan took risks -- started running for office two years ago when "anti-incumbent" had not entered the political lexicon.

Mr. Morgan's entry into politics was an example of what party officials have yearned for and seldom achieved in Maryland -- a system of grass-roots recruitment, a "farm system" of candidates who could move up through county government to the state level.

Mr. Morgan moved to Howard in 1988 and, like most other recent newcomers there, registered Republican.

He was recruited by Delegate Robert H. Kittleman to work on voter registration -- a campaign that signed up 10,000 new Republicans in Howard for the 1988 presidential election.

In that same year, Mr. Morgan, who develops lasers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, decided to run for the House of Delegates.

Tuesday, he was elected, defeating two incumbent Democrats.

At the start of Election Day, Republicans held four public offices in Howard. When the votes were counted, that figure had grown to 12, possibly including a new county executive.

A count of 1,800 absentee ballots today will determine if Elizabeth Bobo has been defeated by Charles I. Ecker, who leads by more than 200 votes going into the count.

Mr. Morgan and his Republican colleague, Martin G. Madden, won in District 13B, a two-member district straddling the Howard and Prince George's county lines near Laurel.

In Elkridge, where Democrats still predominate, Mr. Morgan said, "people felt they had not been paid attention to." Mr. Madden and Mr. Morgan say they listened.

"We said there's not enough common sense left in government. The fact that I am an engineer resonated with a lot of people. They didn't have to vote for some lawyer who wanted to be a professional politician," Mr. Morgan said.

Delegate Kittleman had helped raise $5,000 from Republican sources, and Mr. Morgan said he put $6,500 of his own money in the campaign.

"I had $50 left in the bank," Mr. Morgan said.

In Anne Arundel County, the GOP nearly swept the county courthouse in Annapolis, wresting control of the offices of Circuit Court clerk, register of wills and sheriff from Democrats. In the process, they ousted two Democratic institutions: H. Erle Schaefer, the court clerk, and William Huggins, the seven-term incumbent sheriff.

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