GOP nets sharp rise in voters CAMPAIGN 1994

August 12, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Building on their successes of four years ago, Maryland Republicans are making broad gains in voter registration in bTC almost every part of the state, except for Baltimore and the populous, suburban Washington counties.

Though still outnumbered by registered Democrats by more than a 2-to-1 margin, Republicans have increased their base by 11.3 percent since July 1990, compared with a 7.5 percent increase in Democratic registration.

Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College in Westminster, said the figures are the latest evidence of Maryland's drift toward becoming a two-party state.

Four years ago, Republicans capitalized on the anti-tax, anti-incumbent sentiment among voters by electing executives in three suburban counties, by picking up nine new seats in the House of Delegates and two in the state Senate, and by gaining control of county councils in at least three jurisdictions.

"Basically, the Republicans started building a farm system, which they hadn't done historically, in 1990," Mr. Smith said. "What you're seeing is the results of more Republican candidates out there working, particularly in suburban and rural counties."

The Republican Party now claims majorities in four counties, adding Frederick to the three it controlled in 1990: Garrett, Allegany and Carroll. The GOP also is close to capturing its first Eastern Shore county, where registered Democrats in Talbot County outnumbered Republicans by a mere 411 voters through the end of July.

The deadline for registering to vote in this year's Sept. 13 party primaries is 9 p.m. Monday, and Maryland Republican Party Chairman Joyce L. Terhes said Talbot could be in the GOP column by then.

Since 1990, Republican registration has gone up in Baltimore County by 11 percent compared with gains of just over 2 percent by the Democrats. In rural St. Mary's County, Republicans have picked up 2,041 new voters, a nearly 26 percent increase over 1990, while Democrats have added only 300, or 1.7 percent more.

In sheer numbers, Republicans have also out-registered Democrats in 18 counties since July 1990 -- in every major jurisdiction except Baltimore and the counties of Allegany, Cecil, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's. In three Eastern Shore counties, Dorchester, Kent and Somerset, Democratic registration has declined.

New registrants, Mrs. Terhes said, "are going in our direction without any question."

Despite such boasts, Democrats still control the biggest voting blocs in the state, and by wide margins.

Nearly 1 million Democrats -- or a little under half of all the registered voters in the state -- are registered in just four jurisdictions: Baltimore, Baltimore County, Montgomery and Prince George's. A solid turnout by party-line voters there would be hard for Republicans to overcome in the general election.

Former Rep. Michael D. Barnes, vice chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, noted that in just raw numbers, more Democrats have signed up to vote over the past four years than Republicans, 99,690 to 67,598.

"Even though they had a higher percentage increase, we got more new voters registered during this four-year period," Mr. Barnes said. "At that rate, it would take them some decades to catch us."

"It's hard for me to see why Republicans would be very happy with these numbers," he added. "They're still losing ground."

But Mrs. Terhes seems thrilled. She said Republicans are gaining the most in the fast-growing suburban counties, such as Frederick and Charles. The momentum began during the Reagan-Bush years, but she claimed that President Clinton's unpopularity has also helped.

But the biggest difference, she said, is that there are more Republicans running for office this year. For example, she said 219 Republicans are candidates for the 188-member General Assembly this year, compared with only 132 Republican candidates in 1990.

Mr. Smith noted that in the 1970s and 1980s, the Democrats' registration edge held because "there were so many uncontested delegate and senatorial elections, with no Republican entered."

Mr. Barnes and other Democratic party officials predicted the Democrats will pick up steam again once the primaries are over, and if President Clinton is successful getting health care reform and other major legislation through the Congress.

"If it happens, it will be the most important legislative achievement by a president in our generation, and I think it'll have a tremendous effect on the perception of the leadership of President Clinton and the Democratic Party," Mr. Barnes said.

REGISTER TO VOTE

Monday is the last day to register to vote in Maryland's Sept. 13 primary elections. You can learn where to register by calling Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service.

For most users, the number to dial is (410) 783-1800. But in Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338.

Then, using a Touch-Tone phone, punch in the appropriate four-digit code after you hear the greeting to get information about where you live:

* Anne Arundel -- 6181

* Baltimore -- 6182

* Baltimore County -- 6183

* Carroll County -- 6184

* Harford County -- 6185

* Howard County -- 6186

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