Lacking a message, they took a licking ELECTION 1994

November 10, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

A day after taking the worst beating in county history, Anne Arundel's bruised and battered Democrats mused over what went wrong and pondered their future as a minority party.

Republicans took the day Tuesday, winning the county executive race and unprecedented majorities on the County Council and the county's seats in the House of Delegates. State Sen. Michael J. Wagner, the county's senior Democrat, saw his 16-year State House run come to an end at the hands of recent Republican convert C. Edward Middlebrooks.

Republicans and Democrats alike seemed a little overwhelmed by the result. "I've just about come down off the ceiling," Helen Fister, chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee, said yesterday afternoon.

There was general agreement among members of both parties as to why Republicans did so well. Their party, led by gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey's promise of a 24 percent income tax cut, had a message. The Democrats didn't.

"The Republicans have effectively linked Democrats to tax-and-spend. They all use that song, and they use it effectively," Mr. Wagner said. "I don't know how we recover.

"We don't have a Democratic message," Mr. Wagner continued. "They [Democrats] have to take a position and it has to be a universal position. They have to sell it like the Republicans do."

In a county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3-to-2 margin, it was clear that many Democrats voted across party lines. "I don't think people have those kinds of party loyalties anymore," said Joseph W. Alton Jr., a Republican who was elected Anne Arundel's first county executive nearly 30 years ago.

"I think they have concerns about how [an issue or a candidate] relates to them and their families," Mr. Alton said. "People have something on their mind, and people who want to be elected had better find out what that is."

Michael E. Busch, a Democrat who won re-election to the House of Delegates in Annapolis' 30th District, said it will be very difficult for liberal Democrats to win political office in the county. "I think what it

does to the Democratic Party is it puts them in a position where they have to redefine themselves as candidates who project a more conservative image," he said.

Painting longtime Democratic officials -- especially Mr. Wagner -- as political bosses who ran a party organization that made decisions in a back room also took its toll, Mr. Busch said. "I think people had their fill of that type of thing," he said.

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, who survived a challenge from newcomer Nancy M. Schrum, acknowledged the Democratic Party is reeling, but insisted it is far from dead.

"I can't minimize the impact," Mr. Jimeno said. "But our base and our supporters are still there, and we will continue to go after what they want."

Mr. Jimeno said that moving through the 31st District in the waning days of the campaign, he could sense a groundswell of support for Mrs. Sauerbrey, which extended on Election Day to Republicans running for local office. Although Mr. Jimeno

was re-elected, only Del. Joan Cadden will return to Annapolis to represent the district. Dels. Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski and W. Ray Huff were rejected by voters, who favored Republicans John Leopold and Victoria L. Schade instead.

Four years ago, Diane Evans was one of two Republicans elected to the County Council, the first from their party in 20 years. Now, she will be the senior member of a Republican majority and well-positioned to be elected council chairwoman next month. "I wouldn't say the Democratic Party is dead," Ms. Evans said. "What I can say is the Republican Party is alive and well.

"Those of us who have been talking about, and advocating, a more lean and frugal government -- that's what the public wants and that's what they voted for," she said.

There was also a heavy dose of anti-incumbent sentiment.

"The mentality was, 'Hey, let's get some new faces in. Let's get a change. It can't be any worse than it

is now,' " Mr. Wagner said. "I don't think they considered the issues at all."

Incumbent Mary Ann Love, the lone Democrat elected to North County's 32nd District House delegation, came within 281 votes of being an ex-delegate.

"The only thing that saved me was being there one session only, and maybe, oh, I hate to say it, but . . . the woman thing," she said.

The one bright spot yesterday was thinking ahead four years, when the Republicans will be running on their record and the Democrats will have the luxury of blaming them for whatever has gone wrong.

"Now the mantle of governing rests on them and the responsibility of success or failure rests on them. It was always easy to criticize as the minority party," Mr. Busch said. "So the ills of the world won't be put at the feet of the Democrats."

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