Reagan Democrats not back in fold Perot gained votes at Bush's expense

November 05, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert and Meredith Schlow | Patrick Gilbert and Meredith Schlow,Staff Writers Staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Despite Bill Clinton's victory in Tuesday's election, Democratic efforts to win back suburban blue-collar votes in presidential races fell short in the old smokestack areas of eastern Baltimore County.

But the Republicans couldn't hold on to blue-collar voters, either. The big turnout for independent Ross Perot indicates that the blue-collar vote is still up for grabs.

An analysis of results in seven blue-collar precincts whose voters switched from the Democrats to the Republicans during the Reagan years showed that Mr. Clinton actually fared slightly worse than Democrat Michael Dukakis did in 1988.

Mr. Clinton won a plurality in all seven precincts, but his victory was the result of President Bush's losses -- and the appeal of Mr. Perot.

For example, voters at the the Middle River Volunteer Fire Department gave Mr. Clinton 40 percent, a little less than the 41 percent Mr. Dukakis pulled four years ago.

But President Bush's percentage fell from 59 percent to 38 percent while Mr. Perot got 22.4 percent.

In fact, Mr. Perot got almost 21 percent of the total vote in the seven blue-collar precincts -- which was above his national total of 19 percent and his Maryland total of 15 per- cent.

At Essex Elementary School, Mr. Clinton took 44 percent of the vote, about 10 percentage points less than Mr. Dukakis had four years ago. But the story here was still Mr. Perot. At 26 percent, he was just four points behind Mr. Bush.

Dave Crites, a Vietnam veteran, said that there was only one clear choice for him: Ross Perot.

"I trust Perot more than the other two, especially Bill Clinton," Mr. Crites said. "I served in Vietnam, and Mr. Clinton's draft-dodging was an important issue to me. I voted for Bush before, but I was tired of him. I wanted a change, and that change was Ross Perot."

Anita Nally, 33, a Democrat and a sales clerk at Ames Department Store, also chose Mr. Perot.

"He'll make a good president," she said after voting at Colgate Elementary School in Eastwood. "He wants to get us American people back to work and keep taxes low for the working class.

"I voted for Bush, and it was a dumb mistake. Ross Perot won't keep putting us in a rut. We needed a change," he said.

Many voters who deserted the president for Mr. Clinton or Mr. Perot said that their main reason was a desire for change.

Frank Poremba, 36, a locomotive engineer for Conrail and self-described Reagan Democrat, voted for President Reagan in 1984 and Mr. Bush in 1988. Tuesday, he came back to the Democratic fold.

"Bush did nothing as president," said Mr. Poremba, who voted at Rosedale American Legion Post 180. "Although I voted for Reagan and Bush before, I realize now those choices were a mistake. I thought it was time for a change, and Clinton was the best candidate to bring us that change."

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5th, whose district includes four of the seven precincts studied, said that the Perot phenomenon illustrates the willingness of today's blue-collar voter to look past party affiliation and more at the candidates themselves.

"I think people were looking for simplistic solutions to the complex problems facing them, and Ross Perot gave them that," Mr. Gardina said.

"They identified more with Perot, and maybe they failed to grasp Clinton's more detailed solutions," he said. "As for Bush, there just was a lot of general dissatisfaction out there."

SUBURBAN VOTERS

Although Bill Clinton won Tuesday's presidential election, the Democratic Party has not recaptured the suburban blue-collar voters who deserted the party during the Reagan years. Many of those voters picked independent Ross Perot this time. This chart shows the percentage of votes going to each party in presidential elections in seven key blue-collar precincts in eastern Baltimore County since 1976.

Year .. .. Dem. .. .. Rep. .. Ind.

1976 .. .. 62.2 .. .. 37.8

1980 .. .. 56.7 .. .. 43.3

1984 .. .. 45.9 .. .. 54.1

1988 .. .. 49.4 .. .. 50.6

1992 .. .. 47.2 .. .. 32.1 .. 20.7

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