Gop Celebrates, But Can't Explain, Stunning Success

November 11, 1990|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The Republican Party still hasn't come down. It was not a victory the GOP celebrated here this week, it was a rout.

For nearly a century, the county, like the state, was a virtual one-party system. Democrats ruled -- Republicans reacted.

Tuesday, the roles were reversed.

Eight GOP prizes -- county executive, one State Senate seat, two additional delegate seats, one additional County Council seat, Clerk of the Court and two Orphans' Court judgeships -- were in most instances, won from well-ensconced incumbents.

No one saw it coming.

Even most Republicans thought the most to be gained was a new delegate seat in Annapolis, maybe another place on the County Council and a good showing everywhere else.

How then to explain the Tuesday massacre?

Some said it was the anti-incumbent fervor sweeping the country in the last few weeks. Perhaps. About three weeks before the election, two or three people a day started calling the election board and asking for lists of incumbents only.

But if anti-incumbent sentiment were everything, Republicans Charles C.

Feaga in the fifth council district, and delegates Robert L. Flanagan and Robert H. Kittleman, in 14B, would have been thrown out as well. Instead, they were returned by substantial margins.

Some said the Democrats lost because government wasn't responsive enough. But incumbent council member Angela Beltram, D-2nd, who built a reputation for constituent service, was defeated by 2,000 votes.

Others attributed the GOP win to Republicans using sophisticated polling techniques, working together on a unified strategy, and encouraging Republicans to vote a straight ticket.

Yet state Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-13, part of a Democratic slate that came unglued -- after it was formed, some believed, to protect him -- beat back his challenger by more than 3,000 votes.

The results here were so varied that most Democrats seemed at a loss to explain what happened. "If you want to know the truth, I haven't a clue," said Donald Carroll, a Democratic candidate for council in the last election.

What about the winners? "What happened that (election) night is not going to happen again for a hundred years," said Darrel Drown, GOP council winner in District 2.

Clearly issues did not play a major role. In polls before the election, voters said they wanted exactly the kind of growth measures County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo was putting in place. She lost, as did several candidates supporting abortion rights, another "sure win" issue, pollsters had said.

But issues don't make a difference in local elections, said incumbent Kittleman, who made Republicans believe in themselves when he unseated a Democrat in 1982 to become the first in his party this century to represent the county in Annapolis.

What won this election, Kittleman said, was "hard work. You've got to get out and meet the people. They want to know you're not a nut, that you're intelligent enough to make important decisions, that you'll listen to them, and that you're sympathetic. Convince them of that and you'll get elected -- regardless of where you stand on the issues."

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