Tuesday proves Schmoke is ready for bigger things

ROGER SIMON

November 08, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

Bill Clinton wasn't the only big winner in Maryland las Tuesday. Though Kurt Schmoke was not on the ballot, he did very, very well.

The number of votes that a politician can turn out for himself or for others is the currency of politics.

And Schmoke is a wealthy man right now.

Larry Gibson was Clinton's Maryland state chairman. Larry Gibson is also Kurt Schmoke's campaign manager.

And Clinton's big victory both in Baltimore and Maryland is being viewed as a product of the Schmoke organization.

How big was the victory?

Maryland was second only to Arkansas in the percentage of the vote turned out for Bill Clinton.

(Don't be fooled by those charts that show both Maryland and New York with a 50 percent vote for Clinton. Maryland had 49.95 percent and New York had 49.50 percent. If those numbers seem low to you, keep in mind that Ross Perot made this a three-way race. Getting nearly 50 percent in a three-way race is very good.)

"There have been a lot of phone calls of congratulations," Gibson told me the other day, "but most of the calls have been directed toward the mayor."

Which was the point. It was Schmoke, himself, who went door to door putting up yard signs for Bill Clinton. It was Schmoke, himself, who worked the votings lists, making random calls for Clinton.

And each and every one of the 29,000 phone calls Baltimore volunteers made in the last two weeks of the campaign began the same way: "Hello. I'm calling on behalf of Mayor Schmoke . . . ."

It was not just a one-way street, however. One result of the Clinton campaign effort could benefit Schmoke directly:

"There had a been a pattern of low turnouts in the city and people were starting to question whether city dwellers would vote," Gibson said. "We wanted to prove they would."

So Gibson launched a massive voter registration drive. And when he was done, he had not only increased registration in Baltimore as a whole, but had increased the percentage of black voters from about 60 percent to about 63 percent. (If you don't think 3 percent is a lot, ask a politician who loses by 2 percent how much it is.)

More importantly, however, Baltimore voters voted.

"Frankly, a 50 percent turnout would have been good in Baltimore City," Gibson said. "We got a 68 percent turnout."

And 76 percent of that went to Clinton/Gore. Among black voters in Baltimore, about 91 percent voted for Clinton/Gore.

Statewide, Gibson made two critical decisions early in the campaign that later paid off:

To avoid local infighting, he decreed there would be no county coordinators. But there would be, he decided, lots of buttons, bumper stickers and signs.

That latter decision may seem silly. It did to Little Rock. The national campaign spent its money on media, not on buttons and bumper stickers.

But Gibson thought this was a mistake. "Those materials allow people to connect with a campaign," he said.

So Gibson raised his own money for the Maryland campaign and bought 150,000 bumper stickers, 120,000 signs, 150,000 pins and 150,000 lapel stickers.

"I have been told that we distributed more of these than any other state in the union," Gibson said.

So Maryland, which ranks 19th in national population, distributed more campaign paraphernalia than any other state.

And Maryland produced a bigger percentage for Clinton than any other state except his home state.

And if that doesn't teach them something in Little Rock, they aren't paying attention.

But they are paying attention. Just like Gibson was paying attention to what he learned.

Having run successful local campaigns, he has now run a successful statewide campaign.

But did he actually learn how to run a presidential campaign?

"Sure, I learned how," Gibson said. "I learned a lot."

So Kurt Schmoke's right-hand man now knows about presidential politics.

And maybe all those people who think Schmoke wants to be in the Cabinet or the Senate or the governor's chair are aiming too low.

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