Get Ready for the Primary

January 02, 1992

Maryland's Democratic legislators threw voters a curve when they set the date of the 1992 primary election in early March. While this increases Maryland's clout as a presidential primary state, the March 3 polling puts voters and challengers for congressional seats at a disadvantage. Interest will be sparse for a winter election, and campaign time is short.

Still, thanks to the dramatic redrawing of congressional district lines, the field of contenders for the eight House seats and the one U.S. Senate seat up for grabs numbered 72 when the filing deadline passed a few days before Christmas. There will be huge numbers of candidates on the ballot in the Senate race and the new minority House district in the Washington suburbs.

Incumbent Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski drew five little-known Democratic foes and 15 Republicans who feel she is vulnerable. Two state delegates from Baltimore County, Martha Klima and John J. Bishop Jr., are in the Republican Senate contest along with Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly and Alan L. Keyes, who lost to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in 1988. For once, the Republican primary will capture most of the attention.

A reconfigured 1st Congressional District brought out 11 candidates. The leading Democrat, Rep. Tom McMillen of Crofton, must build voter alliances in his new district which is dominated by the Eastern Shore. The strongest shore candidate, Del. Samuel Q. Johnson III of Salisbury, could give Mr. McMillen a race in those counties. The congressmen's base in Anne Arundel County was undercut by the filing of Del. John Astle of Annapolis and Annapolis City Councilwoman Ellen Moyer. On the Republican side, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest has the clear advantage as a shore incumbent.

The most contentious races are taking place in the 4th Congressional District, the minority district near Washington. Twelve Democrats and eight Republicans have filed, with the real donnybrook occurring among Democrats. Three popular Prince George's incumbents -- State's Attorney Alexander Williams Jr., Sen. Albert Wynn and Councilwoman Hilda R. Pemberton -- are slugging it out in a field that also includes a former county commissioner, a former state senator and a delegate from Montgomery County, Dana Lee Dembrow.

Challengers have their work cut out for them. Not only do incumbents gain huge fund-raising benefits from political action committees (Mr. McMillen has $500,000 in his kitty), but they have run congressional campaigns before. Nevertheless, new district boundaries may reduce the incumbents' advantages and produce some surprises when the votes are counted nine weeks from now.

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