Clinton's Maryland Tactics

February 25, 1992

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's endorsement of his fellow Rhodes scholar, Bill Clinton, may nail down a number of Baltimore votes in next Tuesday's Maryland primary, but the key to the election could well lie in the Washington suburbs. That's where one third of the Democratic votes will be cast. That's where politicians who have signed on to the Clinton campaign have good reason to wonder just how the party rank-and-file will vote.

To wonder and to worry. Voting patterns in New Hampshire made it pretty clear that the more upscale and suburban a precinct, the more likely it will wind up in the camp of Paul E. Tsongas, currently Mr. Clinton's chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. So it was logical for the Arkansas governor to go after the urban vote.

Mr. Clinton's efforts to identify himself with the aspirations of black Americans comes naturally to a Democratic politician of the New South. Large numbers of segregationists have drifted off to the Republican Party, where they are being wooed by Pat Buchanan and David Duke. Large numbers of once-disenfranchised black voters have become pivotal in Southern elections. In his years as governor of Arkansas, Mr. Clinton has appointed many African Americans to high office. But he also has backed the death penalty and has not altered Arkansas' position as a right-to-work state without a civil rights law -- positions that do not go down well in black communities everywhere.

Mr. Clinton does have an urban program, one that emphasizes full funding of Head Start, tax breaks to encourage inner-city enterprise and student loans to be paid off through community service. In this, he has somewhat of an advantage over former Senator Tsongas, who rarely discusses poverty and homelessness. Nonetheless, there is quiet support for Mr. Tsongas among black leaders who savor what they consider his genuineness and accept his reasoning that to be a pro-business liberal is to be a pro-jobs liberal. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, as a pro-labor New Deal Democrat, and Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who has the backing of Jesse Jackson's old organization, Operation Push, may further scramble the black vote.

Whatever his reason, we welcome Mr. Clinton's visit to Baltimore. Despite the weight of the suburban vote, this country must have a progressive urban policy -- not least to make increasingly urbanized suburbia more liveable. Any candidate who does not make this connection ill-serves himself and the nation.

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