Tsongas Provides Glendening With a Road Map


March 15, 1992|By BARRY RASCOVAR | BARRY RASCOVAR,STAFF GRAPHICSBarry Rascovar is editorial page director of The Sun.

What do Paul Tsongas and Parris Glendening have in !B common?

Supporters of Mr. Glendening's bid for governor see tremendous similarities. They regard Mr. Tsongas' surprisingly large victory in the March 6 presidential primary as a blueprint for a Glendening gubernatorial victory two years from now.

Indeed, what happened on March 6 could mark a turning point in Maryland politics. The voice of the suburbs, and of those on the fringes of suburbia, was finally heard in unison.

As my colleague and editor, Bill Salganik, noted, the election revealed a "Tsongas Belt" extending from the Susquehanna River to the gateway of Harpers Ferry on the Potomac, stopping at the doorstep of the nation's capital and following the Patuxent River to the edge of Southern Maryland.

This Tsongas Belt is where most Marylanders live and vote. The only components missing to decide the outcome of the 1994 gubernatorial race are Baltimore City and Prince George's County, which went narrowly for Bill Clinton. Given Mr. Glendening's popularity in Prince George's, where he is serving his third term as county executive, he views the Tsongas Belt, plus his own county, as his natural constituency.

The two men are alike in a number of respects. Neither would win a charisma contest. Neither is a fiery stump speaker. Both are students of government rather than precinct pols. Both pride themselves on their integrity and human decency. And both view themselves as political outsiders for election purposes.

There are other similarities. Both men are ardent boosters of business development as the best way to revive the economy. The "no more Santa Claus" message of Paul Tsongas has already been implemented in Prince George's, where Mr. Glendening has been pruning the size and breadth of county government for the past year and a half. They are positioning themselves as fiscal conservatives and social liberals. And the two men fit the role of the non-politician, the non-traditional candidate that voters seem to be looking for these days.

When Mr. Glendening looks at the Tsongas vote-count, he's got to be encouraged. If he can strike the same kind of voter sentiment in 1994, he could coast to victory.

Not only did Mr. Tsongas sweep suburbia, he also stunned political veterans by running near-even in the newly developing fringe suburbs of Southern Maryland, where he lost by only 184 votes, winning Frederick County and coming within 470 votes of winning the other three counties of Western Maryland. And on the Eastern Shore, Mr. Tsongas made inroads in areas most influenced by creeping suburbia -- the Upper Shore counties, which he lost by only 780 votes.

Can Mr. Glendening duplicate this feat? His biggest Democratic foe appears to be Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, whose estrangement from Gov. William Donald Schaefer has actually worked to his benefit. Mr. Steinberg is campaigning for the 1994 election virtually full time and is the beneficiary of much of the strong anti-Schaefer sentiment.

While the governor may go all-out to undermine Mr. Steinberg's campaign, that might prove counter-productive, winning more sympathy for the lieutenant governor.

For a time, Mr. Glendening looked like the candidate most likely to gain the governor's nod -- and access to the formidable Schaefer fund-raising machinery. But their relationship has cooled.

Mr. Schaefer, briefly, was touting retired C&P executive J. Henry Butta for governor; more recently, he has passed the word that education secretary Nancy Grasmick would make a wonderful chief executive.

But Mr. Schaefer's influence has dropped precipitously, along with his popularity. He already is viewed by many officials as a lame duck whose power is fast dissipating.

Besides, public displeasure with the performance of everyone connected with Annapolis could be widespread in two years. Being connected with the state's power brokers in the State House could be a curse, not a blessing.

If voters stay angry at incumbents, will they side with Mr. Schaefer's running mate or with an outsider with 12 years of executive experience at the county level? Will they favor a glib, joke-cracking pol with strong Baltimore connections and strong ties to the State Senate, or a dull, drab, professorial type from College Park who seems more the technocrat than the politicrat?

More to the point, can Mr. Glendening avoid the kind of Baltimore-vs.-Washington suburban split that could doom his chances? Paul Tsongas did two weeks ago -- and he won quite impressively. Re-creating that kind of suburban unity appears to be Parris Glendening's best hope for stepping up to the governorship in 1994.

Maryland's Democratic primary vote

Tsongas Belt (Anne Arundel Co, Baltimore Co., Carroll Co., Frederick Co., Harford Co., Howard Co., and Montgomery Co.)

57% of Democratic Primary Vote


TSONGAS.. .. .. ..7.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .46%

CLINTON.. .. .. ..0.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .27%

Rest of State

43% of Democratic Primary Vote


TSONGAS.. .. .. ..1.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .34%

CLINTON.. .. .. ..16.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 42%

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