Returns offer Some Comfort for State GOP

BARRY RASCOVAR

November 08, 1992|By BARRY RASCOVAR

George Bush got clobbered in Maryland last Tuesday. That's bad news for the state's Republican Party, which has big plans for the 1994 general elections here. Without a president to provide patronage and popular support to help register new Republicans, the local GOP's hopes for future gains could dim quickly.

But the Bush defeat -- one of the biggest routs he suffered in any state -- can be misleading. The president did take 19 of the state's 24 subdivisions. But he lost Howard County by 5,000 votes; Baltimore County by 16,000 votes; Montgomery County by 73,000; Prince George's County by 103,000 and Baltimore City by 140,000. The central core of the Baltimore-Washington (or is it Washington-Baltimore?) corridor killed him.

The picture becomes a bit brighter if you assume that most of the state's 271,000 Perot voters tend to vote conservative, and Republican, in other elections.

Since the state elected four of eight Republicans to Congress -- and since the total number of votes cast for all congressional candidates here was evenly split at 912,000 for Republicans and for Democrats -- there is reason for Republicans to remain upbeat, despite the Bush blowout.

What's most cheering for the GOP faithful was the stunning success of Rep. Constance Morella in Montgomery County. She won her fourth term with an astounding 72 percent of the vote -- in a county that heavily favored Democrat Bill Clinton. She beat her Democratic opponent by 117,000 votes. That's quite a feat for a Republican even in a good Republican year.

Her brand of Mathias-style moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, combined with her attention to constituent needs and her

endearing personality, make her the GOP's best bet by far to win the U.S. Senate seat from Democrat Paul Sarbanes in 1994.

Meanwhile, the leading Republican candidate for governor, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall, received a potentially harmful blow on Tuesday. Voters approved a property-tax cap for Arundel, a move that could require $35 million in cuts over the next two years. Combined with on-going state aid reductions, this could make Mr. Neall a most unpopular fellow by the time of the 1994 election.

Another Republican heavyweight, Rep. Helen Bentley, sailed through this election, but her supporters fear her myopic obsession with defending Serbia as it continues its "ethnic cleansing" (a euphemism for Holocaust) in Yugoslavia could make her extremely vulnerable to a Democratic challenge in 1994. The names being whispered by GOP workers: state Del. Gerry Brewster or Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Two other Republicans won congressional seats. Roscoe Bartlett, the conservative purist from the 6th District, turned out to be just the kind of candidate Western Maryland loves. He's almost libertarian in his distaste for government. He won thanks to the large anti-Tom Hattery vote as a result of Mr. Hattery's negative campaign against longtime Rep. Beverly Byron in the primary. If Mrs. Byron tries to regain her seat in two years, Mr. Bartlett's tenure could be brief.

The other GOP winner was Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, who out-slugged Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen in a nasty battle on both shores of the bay. Mr. Gilchrest's blend of environmental sensitivity and social concern makes him a heavy favorite to retain this seat for the rest of this decade.

Another intriguing outcome occurred in the new 5th District of Prince George's County and Southern Maryland, where Rep. Steny Hoyer won by a relatively slim 53-44 percent victory. Had Republicans found a better candidate than Lawrence Hogan Jr., this might have been a major upset.

In this relatively conservative district, Mr. Hoyer may have to moderate his views, moving away from knee-jerk liberalism to a middle-road approach favored by President-elect Clinton.

(One cautionary note for Republicans: Alan Keyes' embarrassing blowout in the Senate election ought to end, once and for all, the GOP's habit of nominating carpetbaggers for statewide office. Marylanders like to elect proven, home-grown talent, not career diplomats or academics whose reputations were established elsewhere.)

And finally, the GOP got an unexpected surprise before the election that may eventually revive Republicanism in heavily Democratic Baltimore City. Gov. William Donald Schaefer shocked everyone by flying to St. Louis to endorse George Bush.

Given the governor's estrangement from most Democratic leaders, this may signal a warming between state Republicans and Mr. Schaefer. Is it possible he could be the Republican mayoral nominee in 1995? It's not far-fetched to see Mr. Schaefer in the mayor's office once again. More on that next week.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun.

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