State GOP hopes for big gains in Nov. CAMPAIGN 1994 -- MARYLAND LEGISLATURE

September 18, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's growing Republican Party is hoping November will bring it more seats than ever in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

Republicans are watching several hot state Senate races where they could topple powerful incumbents or advance their march into rural and suburban areas.

"There's a Republican wave coming this year," said GOP Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who gave up his seat to run for Congress. "It's a question of how big it's going to be."

Republicans hope the November general election will boost their membership from 34 seats, or 18 percent of the 188-seat legislature, to at least 50 seats, said Lance D. Copsey, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. If successful, the GOP would make up more than a quarter of the assembly.

Democratic leaders, however, say they're dreaming.

"Republicans are going to add some seats in both the Senate and House, but I think their nominee for governor will not have as long coattails as would have been those of Helen Bentley," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat from Prince George's County.

The Republican nominee, Ellen Sauerbrey, is more conservative than Mrs. Bentley, who lost big on Tuesday.

This is the first election since the legislature redrew its district boundaries in 1992, so many candidates will be running in unfamiliar territories. For that reason, partisan and independent pundits alike said they could not predict the outcome of some of the hotter races.

The races to watch include Senate contests in Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

In Montgomery, the county's most powerful senator, Democrat Laurence Levitan, faces a vigorous challenge from Republican Del. Jean W. Roesser.

As chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, Mr. Levitan, 60, is influential on budget matters statewide. He also boasts that he is best able to bring home the bacon for Montgomery, such as money for schools. Many residents of the wealthy county applaud those efforts because they believe the legislature is too quick to siphon off their tax dollars and send the money to poorer jurisdictions.

The question for some of his supporters is whether Mr. Levitan will get the word out about his influence. Unlike most politicians, the wry senator does not relish the hand-pumping, door-knocking and sign-waving work of campaigning.

"I will be knocking on doors, and I will stand at shopping centers, but I won't do it every day," Mr. Levitan said. "I think I have a message to get out -- the county certainly doesn't want to lose the clout I can bring."

Although certainly no power-broker in Annapolis, Ms. Roesser, 64, has an advantage. She has more time than Mr. Levitan, a lawyer, to devote to campaigning and constituents because she has no other job. A tireless campaigner, she is known and liked for attending many community meetings back home.

Even if Mr. Levitan manages to spread the message of his power, Ms. Roesser plans to use it against him. She happily points out that he used his leadership role to help push for higher taxes -- taxes she opposed.

Ms. Roesser has the backing of former Vice President Dan Quayle, who was scheduled to attend her fund-raiser Friday night.

The event could backfire, said Susan Turnbull, a Democratic Party official from Montgomery.

"I would say that Dan Quayle's coming out for a fund-raiser for Jean Roesser is the best thing that could happen for Larry Levitan," Ms. Turnbull said, because it highlights Ms. Roesser's conservatism. The Washington suburb is more moderate than Ms. Roesser, she said.

Although incumbents such as Mr. Levitan usually have an edge, incumbency isn't considered as big a force in the first election after redistricting. "Redistricting reduces the power of incumbency at a general level, so it increases the competitiveness for offices," said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College.

Another veteran senator facing a spirited challenge is Democrat Thomas L. Bromwell of Baltimore County.

A Republican delegate, John J. Bishop, hopes to retire Mr. Bromwell in the county's redrawn 8th district. Although Democrats have an edge in voter registration there, they also have a history of voting Republican in national and State House elections. "This is an area where party label doesn't mean as much as in some other areas," said Mr. Bishop, 46, an administrator with the state Department of General Services.

Geography, however, is likely to help the plain-speaking Mr. Bromwell, 45, who owns a small construction business. The district includes most of Mr. Bromwell's old territory and little of his challenger's previous turf.

Mr. Bromwell, who had a fight in the Democratic primary, isn't taking anything for granted. "I've knocked on more doors this election than I have in the past two," he said.

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