Picking the Suburban Lock

November 07, 1992

The campaign mantra of Clinton strategist James Carville -- "It's the economy, stupid" -- may have been simplistic, but one can't argue with success.

Mr. Carville's post-election analysis seemed equally on the money: "We didn't find the key to the (Republicans') electoral lock. We just picked it."

Certainly that seemed the case in Maryland. True, Gov. Bill Clinton did win 50 percent of the vote in this state, more than anywhere outside his own Arkansas and the District of Columbia. And yet the president-elect lost to George Bush in 19 of Maryland's 24 subdivisions. Mr. Clinton didn't "win over" all the suburbs, although he did win the most important ones.

He took the "Big Three" -- Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties -- by 187,000 votes over Mr. Bush.

The Democrat took 54 percent of the vote in Maryland's oldest, largest suburbs, compared to 33 percent for Mr. Bush and 13 percent for Ross Perot. Take those totals and mix in a 141,000-vote margin in Baltimore City for Mr. Clinton -- which was actually 20,000 votes fewer than Michael Dukakis beat Mr. Bush by in the city in 1988 -- and the Democrats took Maryland's 10 electoral votes.

Clinton lost this state's legion of smaller suburbs, however. In Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Frederick counties, Mr. Bush won by 34,000 votes. The president took 45 percent of the total, to 37 percent for Mr. Clinton. Mr. Perot fared better in the outer suburbs with 19 percent. (Mr. Clinton did win Howard, but that county more resembles Montgomery in wealth and temperament than it does its similarly sized sisters.)

Neither did Mr. Clinton fare well in the blue-collar communities of eastern Baltimore County -- traditional Democrat strongholds a generation ago, but "Reagan Democrat" country now. Voters there remained disillusioned enough about the Democrats to toss their votes to Mr. Perot.

Montgomery and Prince George's are increasing in population, but Baltimore County and City aren't. The growth in Maryland is going to occur in the Anne Arundels and the Howards and the Fredericks, not to mention Southern Maryland, where Mr. Bush won, too. That's not to say that the smaller suburbs will add enough people in the next four or even eight years to offset the larger 'burbs. Also, states don't operate with mini-Electoral Colleges: You can win the state by capturing just a few counties. One must also consider the magnitude of Mr. Clinton's feat, unseating an incumbent president by the greatest margin since 1912.

Still, Mr. Carville has it right: The Democrats and the president-elect will have to win over those suburbs, which are young and middle class, before they can cast a key to the electoral lock.

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