With Schmoke and Neall Out, It's Time for a Mary-o Scenario

March 27, 1994|By PATRICK E. GONZALES and CAROL ARSCOTT

It's Labor Day 1993 and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall are the odds-on favorites for their respective parties' nominations for governor, "preparing" for a yearlong marathon run to primary victory. Then each, in turn, takes himself out of the running, leaving the pundits scratching their heads and the race wide open.

It's now six months later, and as we approach April Fools' Day 1994, the Republican cast seems set at three candidates, two of them women. The Democratic field continues to grow like kudzu, with just one Mary among the Mickeys, Parrises, Joes, Franks, Eds and Stewarts (and Petes?).

Will 1994 be the Year of the Woman in Maryland? By default? Perhaps.

There is certainly precedent for it. Free State voters of both parties have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to elevate women to high office. Between 1986 (the year Rep. Marjorie Holt retired) and 1992, Helen Delich Bentley, Constance R. Morella and Beverly B. Byron served concurrently from Maryland in Congress, along with Sen. Barbara Mikulski. A female governor would be a first, but not a radical first.

Barring a dramatic -- and actuarially unlikely -- change, the GOP nominee next fall will be a woman from Baltimore County. The question is, what must occur in the Democratic primary to produce a nominee who is a woman from Montgomery County? What will turn Mary H. Boergers from an also-ran into a primary victor? What will produce a Mary-o Scenario? Our answer: just a few simple, and not so simple, things.

First, the current front-runners must fail to ignite the passions of Democratic primary voters. So far, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the embers are already beginning to flicker and fade. Neither Lieutenant Governor Melvin A. Steinberg nor Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening has emerged from the pack after the departure of Mr. Schmoke and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. from the race.

Mr. Steinberg's campaign seems driven by inertia, flaccid from internal bickering and a lack of purpose or direction. Further, Mr. Steinberg carries the curse of all running mates trying to ascend to the top spot: the taint of incumbency. To the voters he symbolizes a continuation, more of the same. And, from our disparate samplings around Maryland, the one thing we've learned for sure about the voters this year is that they want their next governor to be someone they perceive as the polar opposite of the status quo.

Mr. Steinberg's backslapping, back room deal-making style is incongruous with the image of up-front leadership most look for in an executive candidate. His current standing in the polls (mid to upper 20s) is, most probably, his high-water mark.

Parris Glendenning's candidacy is intriguing. He has shown himself to be a tireless, methodical block-by-block politician, who can move easily among seemingly dissimilar groups. He is working desperately (maybe too desperately) to ensure that the contest is seen as a choice between himself, as the outsider, professor-cum-populist, and Mr. Steinberg, the consummate insider. In any "normal" year, his organizational and fund-raising skills would likely carry him to victory. They might yet.

But he still trails Mr. Steinberg by a fair margin with six months to go. And, ultimately, we don't believe that 1994 is going to be a normal political year in Maryland. It will be as tough for Mr. Glendening, this year, to shed his 12 years of incumbency as the executive of one of the state's largest jurisdictions as it will for Mr. Steinberg to claim he has no ties to William Donald Schaefer.

By definition, State Sen. Mary Boergers stands out in the field. The lone woman in a six-person -- possibly seven-person -- Democratic primary race, she is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the historically high turnout of the party's left-of-center voting blocs. She is from populous Montgomery County, with a huge reservoir of heretofore untapped voter potential in off-presidential elections.

Out of the blocks last spring, she courted the party's liberal constituencies in an attempt to galvanize those activists. Our polling research conducted for numerous county-wide candidates in the state is showing sporadic signs that her early wooing is beginning to pay dividends.

Moreover, a recently released independent survey showed Ms. Boergers' overall voter preference number doubling in the past six months and her level of support among men increasing five-fold, albeit from a small baseline.

On the voter's principal issues of concern now, crime and fiscal matters, there is virtually no disagreement, except for each candidate trying to out-tough the other and averring he (or she) was there first.

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