Md. GOP loses its edge Democrats in Aug. post greater gains in new registrants

September 13, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Republicans in Maryland suffered registration whiplash last month when Democrats led by more than 3-to-1 in signing up new voters.

Even the category "Other," which includes independents and Libertarians, led the Republicans.

Some 35,735 men and women added their names to the voter rolls in August, up sharply from the 21,308 who registered in the same month four years ago when the GOP won the war of registrations by almost 2 to 1.

"You haven't seen anything yet," says Larry Gibson, chairman of the Clinton for President campaign in Maryland.

"I've never seen this kind of enthusiasm around voter registration, and I've been doing it since 1968," Mr. Gibson says. "I don't think anger or the economy alone would be enough to account for it. People say they want to vote for Bill Clinton."

Which may help to explain a recent scene at dusk in a Bethesda shopping center.

"I need a Clinton bumper sticker," a woman told a worker at a voter registration booth.

"All out," he replied apologetically.

"Give me yours," she demanded.

Jim Yankauer, a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, quickly obliged, peeling the coveted legend from his own car.

The director of President Bush's campaign in Maryland did not seem surprised to hear that his party had taken a drubbing in August. For one thing, the major GOP effort will come this month, culminating with a big volunteer drive Sept. 26.

But he acknowledges that the voters are restive.

"For the most part it reflects the mood of the country on the economy," says Bo Denysyk, the Bush official. "It's not the best news, but I don't see it as all negative either. If we can convince them that the future is better with the president's program, we'll get our fair share of the Democrats."

Others think Mr. Denysyk is engaging in wishful thinking. Newly registered voters, Democrat or Republican, are likely to vote with the party they signed up with. History, polls and anecdotal evidence all point to that conclusion, says John T. Willis, a former Democratic Party official in Maryland and an authority on Maryland presidential elections.

He observes that the 21,239 new Democratic registrants in August is nearly half the margin of victory for President Bush in 1988. Mr. Bush carried Maryland by 49,863 votes.

Referring to the August gains by the Democrats, Mr. Willis adds, "These numbers reflect people acting on their own. It's not party-driven."

The Democrats hoped they would get even more push for their efforts from Tipper Gore, who spoke yesterday at a voter registration rally at Lexington Market. The wife of vice presidential candidate Al Gore was in town as part of a national Clinton/Gore voter registration effort.

"Voting is the way we change things in America," Mrs. Gore said.

"People have fought and died from Birmingham to Beijing for the right to vote," she added.

An enthusiastic crowd of noontime shoppers and others applauded repeatedly when she said a change in leadership now is crucial to America's future. In an interview before her brief speech, Mrs. Gore said she believes that Americans are under "unprecedented stress and strain."

"This is not the America of our dreams," she said. She appealed to people in the crowd to register themselves and to register their neighbors. Then she personally supervised the registration of two women.

An upsurge in voter enthusiasm is predictable in presidential election years, said Gene M. Raynor, administrator of the state election board. But a sagging economy, the referendum on abortion and the campaign to get businessman Ross Perot's name on Maryland's ballot have raised the level of interest.

Until August, Republicans were winning the registration duel. They registered many more new voters in Maryland than did the Democrats during the past four years. The GOP added almost 100,000 new Republicans, boosting its total to 660,904. The Democrats, who have led their opponents by better than 3-to-1 one in recent years, lost almost 40,000 voters and their advantage stood at about 2-to-1.

Whether the August reversal is a trend or an aberration will not be known at least until Oct. 5, the deadline for registering this year.

The progress made by the Democrats so far may be driven by economic conditions. But Mr. Gibson and others are working to take utmost advantage of it.

Here and in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the heart of Democratic Maryland, volunteers have been working hard. The Saturday after the Democratic convention, Montgomery Democrats manned 30 sites across their county. They planned to do it again this weekend.

HOW TO REGISTER

To register, you must be 18 on or before the Nov. 3 general election, be a U.S. citizen and not be under court guardianship.

The statewide deadline for registering or switching party affiliations is 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5.

Voters can register as a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or decline to list an affiliation. No other parties are officially recognized.

Registration forms can be obtained by calling or visiting your local election board. The forms also are available in many post offices, libraries, schools, state offices and Motor Vehicle Administration offices, said Gene M. Raynor, state administrator of election laws.

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