Judging from figures released by the county Board of Elections this week, Democrats have a lot of work to do outside Columbia in the first, second and fifth council districts.
It was not just Republicans who came to the polls in the November general election to oust incumbent Democrats. It was also Democrats themselves.
The Democratic Central Committee will grill Columbia pollster Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Opinion Research Inc., Monday night for likely explanations of why that happened. Coker, who has previously polled for Democrats outside of Howard County, this past campaign season was hired by Republicans to poll and plan strategy for local candidates -- most of whom won.
"I told them (Democratic committee) I'm going to wear a bulletproof vest and ask for a metal detector at the door," Coker said.
In his Monday evening quarterbacking, Coker said last week he probably will tell the committee several things about Democrats and the county they live in.
"Republican voters are just much more party-loyal -- not just here. It's nationwide," Coker said. "I don't think there's anything they've done that's particularly unique to Howard County."
Overall, he said, Howard County voters were faced with this situation: Democrats largely controlled the county for many years, which "worked to their advantage when voters were pretty much satisfied," Coker said. But when growth, traffic and taxes became issues, incumbency worked against Democrats -- most of the time.
"The Democrats who hung on were those who had to do primaries," Coker said.
Primaries build strength; the winner of the primary stands to benefit from having strength and an organization to carry him or her into the general election, Coker explained. His suggestion to local Democrats: Have primaries.
Howard Democrats who won without primaries were from such heavily Democratic districts that the generalization doesn't hold, he added.
Board of Elections figures indicate that in three of the five council districts -- the first, third, and fourth -- Republicans did nat even turn out a majority of their registered voters. And in all five districts, Democrats turned out in numbers large enough to have elected all of their candidates by wide margins -- had party members voted a straight ticket.
Instead, Republicans toppled seven Democratic incumbents, including County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo, second district council member Angela Beltram, state Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer in District 14, and state Delegates William Bevan and Robert J. DiPietro in District 13B.
Even assuming every voter other than a Democrat or a Republican voted for the Republican candidates, the Republicans still needed help -- and a lot of it -- from the Democrats to win. They got plenty.
Overall, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 10,220 voters -- 28,581 to 18,361 -- in this election, with independents and others casting 4,918 votes. Assuming all Republicans voted a straight ticket and independents and others voted with them, Democrats running county-wide still would have won by 5,302 votes.
Their numbers would have looked something like the sheriff's and state's attorney's races.
Michael A. Chiuchiolo, who beat incumbent Sheriff Herbert L. Stonesifer in the primary, led the Democrats county-wide with 27,728 votes. Four-term incumbent State's Attorney William R. Hymes was close behind with 26,584.
Bobo, running at the top of the ticket, could muster only 26,060 votes to Republican Charles I. Ecker's 26,510. To beat her, Ecker had to have help from at least 2,521 Democrats.
The greatest portion of that help came in the second and fifth council districts.
In the second, or Ellicott City district, all but two precincts have Democratic majorities. A total of 7,252 Democrats -- 64 percent of those registered -- turned out to vote. The Republicans sent 5,287 or 57 percent of their registration to the polls. Independents and others totaled 1,085 (46 percent).
Judging from the election results, it would seem the registration and precinct figures were exactly opposite. Ecker led the ticket with 7,968 votes to Bobo's 5,436 and Republican Darrel Drown beat Beltram by an almost equal margin, 7,890 to 5,815.
Even if independents and others had voted with Republicans, Ecker still would have needed help from 1,596 Democrats and Drown from 1,518 to win.
A similar picture emerged in the fifth district, which comprises western Howard County. There, all but four of the precincts have a Republican majority with the Republicans outnumbering Democrats overall by 364 voters.
However, more Democrats -- 5,079 (63 percent) -- than Republicans -- 4,712 (56 percent) voted. Even assuming Ecker and Republican incumbent Feaga got the independent vote along with the GOP tally, each still attracted large numbers of Democrats.
Feaga, who bested D. Susan Scheidt, won at least 22 percent of the Democratic vote (1,143) and Ecker won at least 16 percent (817) of the votes.