Kind of continental drift or something going...

IS THERE SOME

March 04, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IS THERE SOME kind of continental drift or something going on? I ask that because four years ago when Maryland voted on Super Tuesday, it was proclaimed far and wide that this was because Maryland was a Southern state.

In fact, that was the excuse for moving the primary from its traditional May date to early March.

This year the state moved the primary up even earlier in March in order not to be part of the South's Super Tuesday, and everyone said that Maryland is so un-Southern that it was the place Arkansas' Bill Clinton had to do well in to prove he is not just a regional candidate.

I take both sides in the Maryland-is-the-South, Maryland-is-not-the-South debate. On the one hand, its senators always vote with those of urban Northern states. On the other hand, the nearest monumental statue to Sen. Paul Sarbanes' Baltimore home is inscribed: "To the Confederate Women of Maryland/1861-1865/The Brave at Home." And the next nearest is inscribed: "The Parting of General Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the Eve of Chancellorsville."

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The important thing about Maryland is not that it is Northern or Southron, but that it has so many fringe voters. Fringe voters will determine this year's presidential election, for the first time.

No, I don't mean the "lunatic fringe." I mean what the Census Bureau designates as "the urban fringe." This is the part of the population that lives in an "urbanized area" but not in "the central place" of such an area.

To me, if not officially to the Census Bureau, that's suburbia.

American suburbanites will cast more votes this year than big city folks, than small town folks, than rural folks. The 1990 Census was the first to show such a population distribution. Maryland is way ahead of this curve (because we have two suburbs and only one urb)(Washington, D.C., being outside the state). Suburbanites have been out-voting the city slickers and the country bumpkins in Maryland for years.

And every year the influence of suburban voters grows here. Four years ago, Baltimore City voter registration was 39 percent of the total of the three big suburban counties, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's. This year it is 31 percent.

Here are the county-by-county voter registration totals, first for March, 1988, then for March, 1992:

Baltimore City

377,012.305,059.

Baltimore County

337,348.343,279.

Montgomery County

352,936.367,472.

Prince George's County

269,881.272,202.

Note that last time, Baltimore City could outvote both Washington suburbs. This time it can outvote only one. Four years from now it will not be able to outvote either. And 20 years from now. . . who knows? Twenty years ago, the city could outvote Montgomery and Prince George's counties put together.

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