Clinton makes his pitch to state at softball game His game plan is to pursue area's 'Reagan Democrats'

September 02, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer Staff writer John Fairhall of the Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

With his party O-for-2 in recent presidential elections in Maryland and with a fresh poll suggesting another close race this year, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton opened his campaign here last night at a flag-decorated softball stadium in Anne Arundel County.

"For the rest of the campaign, I'm going to stick up for the people like you who work hard, who play by the rules and who have basically gotten the shaft for the last 12 years," Mr. Clinton said after a late-inning appearance as a pinch-hit ter and pitcher at Severn's Randazzo Park.

He hit an infield single and had a brief and unremarkable mound appearance for the Stingers softball team before aiming his real pitch at the swing voters -- Reagan Democrats and suburbanites whose decision likely will determine the outcome in Maryland.

"Our dreams haven't failed, but our policies have," Mr. Clinton said in his brief remarks -- first from the bleachers, and after the game from the mound.

After spending last night in Baltimore, Mr. Clinton was scheduled for a speech at 10:15 a.m. today at Montgomery College in Rockville.

Democrats have a two-to-one advantage in registered voters in Maryland, but Republicans have prevailed in each of the last two presidential elections, 1988 and 1984. Ronald Reagan narrowly lost the state in 1980.

And while national polls have given the Arkansas governor leads of up to 20 percentage points in recent days, a WMAR-TV survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Survey Research of Columbia yesterday put the gap here at 9 percentage points: 48 percent for Mr. Clinton, 39 percent for President Bush and 13 percent undecided.

"Maryland's a battleground," says Jon Spalter, Clinton campaign spokesman in Maryland. "The key is the swing voters, the Reagan-Democrats and suburbanites who left the Democratic Party -- but who are coming back."

Thus, the candidate's athletic foray into northern Arundel, a quick suburban strike into what Mr. Spalter calls "the backyards of the voters" -- the sort of campaigning that has worked well during Mr. Clinton's recent bus tours.

Mr. Spalter may or may not be correct about the return of disaffected Democrats, particularly in a state like Maryland where they have more than one alternative. The Mason-Dixon poll also measured voter preferences in a three-way race that includes Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who has not been campaigning but whose name remains on the Maryland ballot. In that survey, the outcome was Mr. Clinton, 41 percent; President Bush, 36; Mr. Perot, 12; with 11 undecided. In an earlier Mason-Dixon poll, each of the three candidates drew about 30 percent of the vote.

Republicans as well as Democrats said they were elated by Mr. (( Clinton's early visit to Maryland three days prior to Labor Day, when presidential campaigns in American open traditionally.

The Republicans, none too optimistic about their chances here this year, were buoyed by the latest polls showing their man down by nine points in heavily Democratic Maryland. The Democrat's two-day trip here could mean he feels Maryland is less secure than previously thought, Republican observers said.

"If Bill Clinton didn't assume he had Maryland won when he walked out of the Democratic convention, it means he has a problem," says Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "These poll numbers show that he's fighting for his base," he said.

"I won't be satisfied until it's that Bush is on top," said Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the Second District congresswoman and chairwoman of the Bush campaign in Maryland. Mrs. Bentley said she expects a tough race this year.

"We have a bad economy, lots of people hurting," she said. And she gave credit to the Democratic adversary: "You have to admit Clinton is a fighter."

And he is far better organized than the Democratic candidate in 1988, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

"It was horrible four years ago," said Greg Peccoraro, acting executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, who is working with the Clinton team on a campaign strategy that links all the Democratic candidates running this year.

For the first time in history, Mr. Peccoraro said, the party's candidates are putting money -- a total of $500,000 -- and organizational resources into a common campaign organization.

Yesterday, as last-minute plans were made for their candidate's visit, about a dozen staff people rushed around the state headquarters at the Mount Clare Station shopping center in southwest Baltimore. At Republican headquarters on York Road in Baltimore County, by contrast, one person was at work.

The Democrats were taking the initiative yesterday. Observing that Education Secretary Lamar Alexander is scheduled to visit Baltimore today, Mr. Spalter said a Clinton presidency would "make sure that students who've fallen through the education safety net in recent years are a priority."

The priority last night, though, was softball and campaigning before a crowd of more than 2,000 people who more than filled every bleacher seat at Randazzo Park -- named for Sgt. Ronald M. Randazzo of Glen Burnie, who died in last year's Persian Gulf war. People clustered around the fences and backstop for a view of candidate Clinton.

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