Domination of suburbs keys Clinton's Md. win

November 05, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith and James Bock | C. Fraser Smith and James Bock,Staff Writers Staff writer Tom Waldron contributed to this article.

Democrat Bill Clinton trounced President Bush in the Maryland suburbs this year, guaranteeing victory even without the 140,000-vote margin delivered for him in Baltimore.

The Arkansas governor's 270,370-vote landslide was the biggest in Maryland for either party since Republican President Richard M. Nixon won the state by 324,000 votes in 1972.

Mr. Clinton's victory with 50 percent of the vote in Maryland ranked second only to the candidate's home state of Arkansas, where he took 54 percent, said Larry Gibson, an adviser to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and director of the Clinton campaign in Maryland.

Suburban voters held the key.

Democrat Michael S. Dukakis won Baltimore by 161,000 votes in 1988 and still lost Maryland to Mr. Bush by almost 50,000 votes. To win this year, Mr. Clinton had to battle his opponent in the suburbs.

In communities like Catonsville, one of the electoral battlegrounds of 1992, Mr. Clinton and the independent Ross Perot cut deeply into the base developed by Ronald Reagan and Mr. Bush over the past 12 years.

"Bill Clinton's heart was in the right place and George Bush's wasn't," said Wendy Enelow, a 35-year-old Catonsville businesswoman and a Democrat who had been leaning toward Mr. Bush. She said Mr. Clinton "closed the sale" with her on the strength of debate performances and a biographical television spot that made her feel more comfortable with him.

Four years ago, Mr. Bush took 60 percent of the vote in Catonsville while former Massachusetts Governor Dukakis took 39 percent. This year, Mr. Clinton cut that 21 percent margin to 3 percent.

Mr. Perot got 19 percent of the vote, well above the 14 percent he got statewide, supported by committed voters like Joe Chilcoat, who owns four 7-Eleven stores in the Catonsville area. Catonsville voters, hard hit by job losses and the fear of layoffs, were looking for a strong economic manager this year.

"I had to vote my conscience," said Mr. Chilcoat, who overcame his unhappiness with Mr. Perot for leaving the race temporarily in July. He rejected the argument that Mr. Perot couldn't win.

"It was a tough decision, but you have to vote for who you want."

A non-starter in Mr. Chilcoat's mind, President Bush was hurt by Mr. Perot's strong showing in Catonsville and elsewhere. The Republican went on to lose Baltimore County as a whole by about 20,000 votes.

Mr. Clinton was equally strong in Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, creating a deep cushion to nullify Mr. Bush's victories in less populous counties.

The Democrat won majority-black and suburban Prince George's 103,000 votes. Prince George's has voted Democratic since 1976 but never by such a wide margin. The Democrat carried Montgomery, the state's largest pool of voters, by 63,000. Montgomery went Democratic in only two of the past five presidential elections. In 1988, Mr. Dukakis squeaked by there by only 11,000 votes.

The Clinton performance was probably partly due to population changes in the suburbs themselves. The four key counties all have substantial black populations that traditionally vote Democratic, and the counties have become more densely settled and urban over time.

Prince George's went from 37 percent black in 1980 to just more than half in 1990. Baltimore and Montgomery counties, each about 8 percent black in 1980, were both more than 12 percent in 1990. Howard, the state's fastest-growing county during the 1980s, remained nearly 12 percent black.

"What this vote reflects is the new core of the Maryland electorate," says John T. Willis, author of a book on presidential elections in Maryland.

"In the past, you could draw a circle around Baltimore and that was the sphere of political influence in Maryland. Now the core is an ellipse that goes down the transportation corridors taking in Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery."

Mr. Bush won Anne Arundel County in 1988 and again this year -- but by only half of the margin of 23,000 votes he chalked up four years ago. Richard Murphy, a 46-year-old Wilson Point computer analyst, is one of those who turned to Mr. Clinton this time.

"I've believed Clinton -- a lot of people didn't," he said. "I was a Reagan Democrat. In fact, I voted for Bush last time."

But recently, he said, the GOP had moved too far to the right for him.

"I guess the thing that was really disturbing was the Republican convention. . . . They're not talking to me anymore. I don't know who they're talking to."

While the turnout Tuesday approached record proportions, some voters fought the impulse to stay at home.

One Catonsville man, discouraged by the loss of a good job and his failure to find another, began to wonder whether his circumstance could be changed by a president. He went to the polls ultimately "out of guilt" -- and he felt proud yesterday to be a part of the state's big turnout. He voted for Mr. Clinton.

"The thought of voting for Bush never crossed my mind," he said.

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