Glendening, Sauerbrey: polls apart

September 15, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

WITH A customized blend of new age demographics and old line politics, a dramatic realignment of Maryland's lifescape was launched in voting booths across the state this week.

Voters set up a clear-cut confrontation between a conservative Republican who has promised reduced government and a 24-percent tax cut and a Clintonesque Democrat who's made $300 million in campaign promises in exchange for endorsements.

They also set in motion a new political power center and with it the flow of influence, access, high- and low-level patronage jobs, a new unnatural alliance between Baltimore City and Baltimore County and a coming together of sorts of Maryland's two largest black populations -- Baltimore City and Prince George's County.

And for good measure, Maryland held its first (and probably last) publicly financed election as well as voting within the brackets of newly imposed term limitations -- the electorate's latest folk remedy -- in several counties.

Against that rip-tide of events, candidates set the tone and the tempo for future debate by unleashing a lynch-mob, mean streak that plays into voters' emotional fears about crime and the corrosive cynicism about big government.

With the clank of thousands of levers, voters on the Maryland side of Washington left no doubt that Montgomery and Prince George's counties are the state's new political center of gravity.

And as a bonus, they'll get a chance to elect a governor from that region for the first time since Oden Bowie got the job in 1867. Democrats nominated Parris Glendening, executive of Prince George's County for the past 12 years.

Though they are still outnumbered 2-1, Republicans continued tip-toeing toward the distant dream of a two-party state. They fielded more candidates than ever before. With a low turn-out and high dudgeon, GOP voters chose the lesser-known of two conservative women, state House Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey, and in turn rejected the numerical front-runner, party doyenne Helen Bentley.

With less than eight weeks for tempers to cool and blood pressures to stabilize before the Nov. 8 general election, Democrats have the daunting task of re-grouping after a divisive and intensely personal campaign fought mainly over the airwaves.

And that's the backbone of Mrs. Sauerbrey's general election campaign. Though Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, she's counting on massive defections of aging Democratic warlords to her side of the hard line, hoping her pro-business, budget-cutting, tax-cut message will resonate with the anti-Glendening forces and those who oppose Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

As if to underline the battle formation for the general election, there's already talk of a reawakening of the so-called Reagan Democrats who subscribe to Mrs. Sauerbrey's stiff dose of Reaganomics.

For his part, the professorial Mr. Glendening proved that he's a political scientist who understands the primal scream of politics -- that money, media and organization win elections. He had an abundance of all three. His primary election money belt bulged with more than $3.1 million.

Mr. Glendening's principal assignment for the general election will be to formulate a new strategy to engage Mrs. Sauerbrey instead of his anticipated foe, Mrs. Bentley. Mrs. Sauerbrey is by far one of the most knowledgeable and articulate candidates on state government issues. And her forceful message resembles the successful issues campaign of New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

It's axiomatic in politics that primary elections are fought on issues and personality. And, no question about it, Mr. Glendening and Mrs. Sauerbrey present a clearly defined contrast on issues.

But first Mrs. Sauerbrey has two major general election problems. The first is the 2-1 Democratic registration. And the second is her agreement to accept public financing, which automatically caps the amount of money she can spend.

As part of the new order of politics, Baltimore City voted for the first time in two newly combined districts with Baltimore County, touching off hopes (and fears) that a common denominator can be found to share more than imaginary boundary lines. And along with newly appended geography, Baltimore County is also assured of its first black members of the General Assembly.

While the Washington suburbs were redefining themselves as the new epicenter of state politics, there was another bridge-building occurring between Prince George's County and Baltimore.

The two subdivisions are majority black, Baltimore City is 61 percent and Prince George's County, 51 percent, though the two populations are vastly dissimilar in economic status.

It was the political influence of Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Glendening's record among his own black constituents -- in addition to $50 million in campaign promises to the city -- that helped to unite the two areas behind Mr. Glendening.

Mr. Schmoke's political enforcer, lawyer Larry Gibson, was nominally in charge of Mr. Glendening's Baltimore campaign. But Mr. Gibson spent much of his time in Prince George's County working in Wayne Curry's campaign to succeed Mr. Glendening as county executive.

The airborne message has it that Mr. Glendening has promised Mr. Gibson (and Mr. Schmoke) two cabinet appointments and veto power over three others under the political patronage system of rewards and punishments.

In addition to the main event, there was an intriguing subtext in the campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination as well. Two campaigns for next year's mayoral election were being formed through two campaigns for governor -- Mr. Schmoke's through Mr. Glendening's and city council President Mary Pat Clarke's through American Joe Miedusiewski's. Mr. Schmoke won round one.

The sound of Maryland on the move is the clicking of voting levers.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.

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