Schmoke Can Carry Montgomery - and State

July 18, 1993|By LANNY J. DAVIS

The conventional wisdom among most of the state's politicalanalysts is that Kurt Schmoke will have rocky times in Montgomery County if he runs for governor.

Apart from Montgomery's perceived resentment over being shortchanged in Annapolis while Baltimore gets its Convention Center and other financial subsidies, the assumption is that most Montgomery Countians don't want another ex-Baltimore mayor in the State House.

But not so fast. As usual, it pays to be skeptical of the early-line conventional wisdom.

In the last several weeks, I have talked to dozens of Montgomery County Democratic elected officials, political activists and business and community leaders about Mayor Schmoke, including many who had already committed to other candidates.

Reactions to a Schmoke gubernatorial candidacy were uniformly positive. Former County Executive Sidney Kramer summed it up best: "Kurt Schmoke is the right kind of political personality for Montgomery County Democrats. He could be very formidable in the primary in this county."

Montgomery is the largest jurisdiction in the state and likely to contribute the highest percentage of votes in a state gubernatorial primary. If, in fact, Mr. Schmoke is doing this well in Montgomery with all the political baggage he inevitably must carry, he will be difficult to defeat statewide.

To do well in Montgomery County, Mayor Schmoke must appeal to three major groups of Democrats who tend to dominate Democratic primaries in local elections.

The Slow-Growth Conservatives oppose development and want to discourage economic growth -- even if that means blocking the entry of new businesses and creation of new jobs in the county.

The Pro-Growth Moderates, while pro-business conservatives for the most part, often ally with liberal groups like labor to encourage new housing, roads and schools.

In local Democratic primary elections, the Slow-Growthers and Pro-Growthers usually have about equal numbers of core primary voters -- say in the 30 to 35 percent range.

The third group, the National Democrats, control the balance, and thus they are pivotal in county Democratic primaries. They will swing one way or another on the growth issue depending on the state of the economy and whether they perceive that growth has gotten too much out of control. However, they are far more focused on national issues and think of themselves as more liberal than not. Many are federal employees or work in Washington, and most read the Washington Post's national news section and rarely read the metro section or local newspapers.

Thus, these National Democrats are less likely to be aware of, or to care very deeply about, the insider squabbles between local governments in Baltimore and Rockville as to which jurisdiction gets more money from the state legislature.

This is the group most likely to be attracted to the Kurt Schmoke candidacy: His resume, personal projection, approach to issues

-- and yes, his race -- will all be big political pluses for him among National Democrats.

But Mr. Schmoke could also do well among the Pro-Growth Moderates if he emphasized his success as mayor in economic development, partnerships with the business community and support for investment in infrastructure.

Such an emphasis might make the Slow-Growth Conservatives nervous. But since many of these are also national liberals, many will likely support Mr. chmoke anyway on the assumption that growth issues are primarily determined at the local level.

Several reliable polls, some published and some not, support Mr. Schmoke's high potential among Montgomery County Democrats. They contradict the conventional wisdom that Montgomery County is an irreconcilable hot-bed of anti-Baltimore resentment. For example:

Mr. Schmoke's name recognition among Montgomery Democrats is high -- as high as Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening -- and his favorable-to-unfavorable ratio, seen by many pollsters as a key measurement of political strength or weakness, is nearly four-to-one. Such a ratio is extraordinarily healthy for any well-known politician in Montgomery County -- much less for the mayor of Baltimore.

By a substantial plurality, Montgomery Countians won't hold their negative views of Governor Schaefer against Kurt Schmoke: They are willing to keep an open mind about another mayor of Baltimore serving in Annapolis. A plurality also indicates positive feelings about the city of Baltimore and that Montgomery is getting a "fair share" of attention from the state government.

In short, they distinguish their feelings toward Governor Schaefer from those toward Mayor Schmoke and the city of Baltimore.

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