Reduced share of the white vote troubles Schmoke's advisers


September 15, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

About a year ago, the senior staff of the Kurt Schmoke campaign met and decided that the greatest barrier to the mayor's re-election would be the "hostility and unfair- ness" of The Baltimore Sun.

"From the beginning, I felt we would be running against the Sun papers," Larry Gibson, Schmoke's campaign manager, said Friday. "Mainly on the editorial pages, but to some extent in the news pages, there has been unfair treatment of Kurt."

On Friday, The Sun ran an editorial referring to Schmoke's victory margin in the primary -- he finished 27.9 percentage points ahead of his nearest opponent -- as "less than some observers had expected considering the giant campaign chest the incumbent had amassed."

"What observers?" Gibson said. "Who are they? This editorial was biased and unfair. And we knew from the very beginning of the campaign that the Sun papers would not treat Kurt fairly, that they would be our No. 1 opponent.

"Right now, Kurt is vacationing for a few days at a place with a beach. If he saw a child drowning and walked on the water to save him, the Sun papers would run an editorial the next day that said: 'Schmoke Can't Swim!'

"After a [primary] re-election victory like Kurt's, people pick up that paper and read that editorial and it causes the paper to lose credibility among a large portion of the city."

Aside from smoldering over The Sun editorial, Gibson spent the day after the election crunching numbers. In politics, even when you win big, you have to know how, where and why you won if you want to win big again.

According to Gibson's analysis:

* While achieving a considerable victory last Thursday, Schmoke did worse among white voters than he did in 1987.

"In 1987, Schmoke got 33 percent of the white vote," Gibson said. "This year, he got 30 percent of the white vote."

To put it another way, Schmoke lost the white vote 2-1 last time. This time he did even worse.

* Offsetting this trend and then some, was Schmoke's huge margin of victory among black voters.

"In 1987, Schmoke got 62 percent of the black vote," Gibson said. "This time he got 78 percent of the black vote."

To put it another way, Schmoke won the black vote 2-1 last time and won it nearly 4-1 this time. Both the black population and black voter registration of Baltimore is about 60 percent. You can also subject the vote totals to another analysis:

"From a politician's perspective," Gibson said, "you must ask yourself: Who is my constituency? The constituency of Kurt Schmoke's vote in 1987 is that he got 72 percent of his vote from blacks and 28 percent of his vote from whites.

"In 1991, he got 76 percent of the vote from blacks and 24 percent of it from whites."

There is one problem with this kind of analysis, however. It is solely a numerical analysis. From both a governmental and philosophical point of view, Schmoke's constituency is all of Baltimore, black and white.

And this is why the results of last week's primary election trouble the Schmoke campaign.

"Why did Kurt do worse among whites?" Gibson said. "I do not know. I am very troubled by it. Certainly, I am. It is mystifying to me. Kurt made a decision to campaign in both black and white areas, and he split his time about 50-50.

"And we made a real effort in white areas this year in our campaign organizing. Our campaign workers in white areas did an excellent job and if they hadn't, I think the numbers would have been even worse."

* As the education and income of white voters go up, so does Schmoke's vote. Schmoke does the worst in blue-collar white areas of Baltimore and the best in white-collar white areas.

In Highlandtown and Canton, for instance, blue-collar white areas, Schmoke received about 18 percent of the vote.

In the Northeast corner of the city, where incomes rise somewhat, Schmoke got 25 percent of the vote.

In Homeland, an area of upper-middle class voters, Schmoke actually achieved a majority: 59 percent of the vote.

"The trouble is," Gibson said, "Homeland has a lot of grass and few voters."

In the Northwest part of the city, which contains a significant Orthodox Jewish population, Schmoke got 50 percent of the vote. "And we look upon that as a real victory because it is a turnaround from 1987, when Schmoke lost that area," Gibson said.

But to understand the dynamics of winning a citywide election in Baltimore, you have to understand one thing: "Baltimore is a city of black people and blue-collar whites," Gibson said.

From a purely political standpoint, Schmoke's huge margin in the black community is an enormous political benefit, more than offsetting his poor showing in the white community.

That is because Schmoke's victory Thursday was not based on a delicate coalition of various racial, ethnic or special interest groups. It was based on a monolithic win among blacks.

This means Schmoke can be re-elected mayor for as long as he holds onto that core vote.

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