The GOP's leap of faith

March 24, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

MARYLAND Republican Party officials have completed a preliminary body count of Democrats. The sunny-side-up conclusion is that the GOP could pick up as many as 18 seats in the General Assembly -- 10 to 15 in the House of Delegates and at least three in the Senate.

With their roster now standing at 25 delegates and nine senators, the numerical gains Republicans are projecting would increase their membership to 35-40 in the House and 12 in the Senate -- the highest number ever in the traditionally Democratic-controlled 188-member legislature.

To accomplish the mathematical leap, Republicans are counting on two compelling factors -- reapportionment that accommodates their recent voter registration gains in suburban areas, and contested primaries that feature marquee candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate. GOP strategists are hoping the fireworks of the September primary will translate into enthusiasm in the general election.

In Montgomery County, for example, there are two open Senate seats in Districts 15 and 39. Republicans are confident they can win at least one of them in the county with the highest concentration of registered Republicans (135,000) in the state.

In addition to a Senate seat or two in Montgomery County, party vote-counters believe they can win three House seats in District 39 and at least one, possibly two, in District 15.

In Anne Arundel County, GOP strategists believe they have a better than even chance of winning the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Gerald W. Winegrad as well as a clean shot at a second seat in District 33.

Republicans will also be contesting the Eastern Shore Senate seat being abandoned by Frederick C. Malkus Jr., the retiring dean of the Senate.

Closer to home, Republicans see a good opportunity to pick up a House seat in northwest Baltimore County's District 11 and a chance to win an open seat in neighboring Carroll County. They're also itching for a fight in District 12, which incorporates parts of both Baltimore and Howard counties.

Republicans are training their sights on Democratic Del. Thomas Hattery's House seat in Frederick County as well as Del. Bruce Poole's incumbency in Hagerstown. Farther west, Republicans hope to win a seat in Cumberland as well. And for the first time, Republicans are fielding a full-blown ticket in Essex in eastern Baltimore County.

This campaign season the GOP is suffering from an embarrassment of riches. Not only do Republicans have three candidates for governor; they also have six candidates for the U.S. Senate nomination.

At least three of those candidates -- Ruthann Aron of Montgomery County, William E. Brock of Annapolis (via Tennessee) and Ross Z. Pierpont -- are wealthy, with dollars they can lavish on advertising and get-out-the vote drives. The other GOP Senate candidates are William T. S. Bricker of Baltimore County, Del. C. Ronald Franks of Queens Anne's County and Frank Nethken of Cumberland.

Finally, in the Republican race for governor are Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, both of Baltimore County, and William Shepard of Montgomery County.

Ms. Bentley raised $250,000 at her first major fund-raiser, and she has the ability to raise thousands more because of her years in Washington as a member and chair of the Federal Maritime Commission and as a member of Congress since 1985. Delegate Sauerbrey also has raised about $250,000.

During the 12 years of Republican rule in the White House, party registration increased significantly in Maryland. Republicans now account for 709,000 voters, more than half of them in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties. Even so, in the past year Democrats have outpaced Republicans in voter registration. There are 1.6 million registered Democrats in Maryland.

Because of reapportionment, retirements and defeats, a turnover of about 50 percent is expected in the House of Delegates and about 35 percent in the Senate, thus increasing the mathematical possibilities of the Republican Party projections. The GOP wish list is about as close as it gets to two-party government in Maryland.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics.

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