Democrats' hopes high in races for House seats

October 19, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County Democrats are hoping to regain ground -- and a measure of vindication -- this November in races for the county's six House of Delegates seats.

Republican candidates are confident that they can ride the fervor surrounding their gubernatorial candidate, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, and a recent surge in GOP voter registration in the county.

Thirteen candidates are seeking the six seats from the county's four main legislative districts in the Nov. 8 general election.

In 1990, local Democrats took a trouncing as Republicans snatched five of the six seats. But Democrats now believe they have a strong chance to at least even out the balance of power in the county's House delegation.

"Our hope is to win at least three of the seats," said Carole Fisher, chair of the county's Democratic State Central Committee.

The main factors behind the Democrats' hopes are redrawn districts that diluted some GOP power, an organized campaign strategy among Democratic leaders and at least two Democratic candidates with countywide name recognition.

Republicans call the Democrats wishful, predicting that the GOP will maintain its majority in the House delegation.

"It's definitely going to be a Republican year," said Allan Kittleman, head of the county Republican State Central Committee.

The Republicans point to the recent increase in GOP registration -- 1,186 new voters from Sept. 26 to Oct. 11 -- as a sign that Republican candidates will draw strong voter interest.

Democrats still have a big advantage over Republicans in

Howard: 49.6 percent of the electorate to 36.4 percent. (The rest are independents or affiliated with other parties.)

But House Republican candidates are attempting to use the tax issue to their advantage. In the words of Del. Robert L. Flanagan, running for re-election in District 14B, a vote for the Democrats would mean "bigger state government and higher taxes."

The Democrats, too, have a tax strategy: to stir fears that statewide GOP gains could lead to draconian state budget cuts that in turn, could result in higher local property taxes.

Mrs. Sauerbrey has said that one of her top priorities would be a 24 percent tax cut over four years. That has drawn voter interest in suburban counties such as Howard.

Democrats counter that Mrs. Sauerbrey's tax cut might end up costing taxpayers more.

"The Republicans tax plan is a gimmick and a hoax," said John Giannetti, who is running for the seat that represents North Laurel. "The reality is less taxes means less money will flow to the towns and counties. Countians will end up paying higher property taxes."

Following is a snapshot of each race for a House seat from Howard County:

* District 12B (west Columbia, Ilchester):

Democratic leaders are confident that Elizabeth Bobo, 50, will handily win the District 12B race, in which one House seat is at stake. One edge for Ms. Bobo is that the district includes heavily Democratic central and west Columbia.

But Ms. Bobo is having to fend off GOP nominee Charlie Scott and his supporters' reminders to voters that she was swept out of the county executive office by a Republican in 1990 because of her legislation to limit housing construction.

The two candidates' priorities differ, but the main issue in the race has become experience.

Mr. Scott, a Columbia resident and natural resources management student at the University of Maryland, is young -- 21. His political experience includes interning last year in the General Assembly. Ms. Bobo contrasts that with her experience as county executive from 1986 to 1990 and as a County Council member from 1978 to 1982.

"It is not an easy race," Mr. Kittleman said. "But Charlie is not a naive young person. He's out there beating on doors."

* District 13A (east Columbia, Savage, Scaggsville):

Democrats have high hopes for winning District 13A's two seats. Democrats Shane Pendergrass, who sat on the County Council for eight years, and Frank Turner, a professor at Morgan State University, have mounted a well-organized campaign emphasizing the diversity of their ticket -- a woman and a black.

They face two Republican loyalists seeking elected office for the first time: Michael Grasso, a professor at the University of Maryland, and Kenneth Miller, an employee of an Elkridge

manufacturer of industrial products.

Republican Party leaders think Ms. Pendergrass can be defeated despite her name recognition. They note that she won her council race in 1990 by fewer than 300 votes. And Mr. Grasso has mounted a strong door-to-door campaign, which GOP leaders think might give him a chance in the race.

Also seeking a seat is lawyer Arthur Reynolds, an independent candidate who has never run for office before. He faces tough odds.

* District 14B (west county and Ellicott City):

The district's race has emerged as one of the most spirited, with two first-time Democratic candidates trying to undermine two well-entrenched Republicans.

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