Defeat baffles incumbent Hickman ELECTION 1994

November 10, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

The write-in campaign waged by Thomas E. Hickman -- the 20-year county state's attorney who narrowly lost the GOP primary -- was at a disadvantage from the start.

But that never stopped Mr. Hickman or his fiercely loyal cadre of supporters from believing it could work. They believed, many of them up to the last minute, that their candidate could be returned for a sixth term as the county's top prosecutor.

That belief quickly surrendered to reality Tuesday night, as they and the rest of the county learned that not only had Republican -- and former Hickman employee -- Jerry F. Barnes cruised to victory, but Mr. Hickman had finished third in a three-candidate race.

For Mr. Hickman, the loss was only the second time he had come up short at the ballot box, the first having been his 172-vote loss to Mr. Barnes in September.

But that he lost so decisively was a shock to many courthouse observers and political pundits. Mr. Barnes, who started his legal career in Mr. Hickman's office 17 years ago, captured 54 percent of the nearly 41,000 votes cast. Democratic candidate and political newcomer Linda A. Holmes -- who has never tried a criminal case -- garnered 30 percent, while the incumbent got 16 percent.

Mr. Hickman conceded defeat and vowed to work with Mr. Barnes to craft a smooth transition. But he was at a loss to explain his poor showing at the polls.

"We gave people the choice," Mr. Hickman said Tuesday night from Maria's restaurant in Westminster, where he and his supporters gathered to listen to the returns.

"It's very difficult to be a write-in. I had heard from many people that they were reluctant to vote for a write-in, because they were afraid their vote would actually help one of the other candidates."

The numbers point to one conclusion: Despite a spate of last-minute attack ads, some negative news stories about Mr. Barnes' involvement in a controversial drug stop of a county commissioner in 1990 and the return of a murder indictment in a nearly two-year homicide investigation, Mr. Hickman's presence in the race was irrelevant.

The difficulty facing write-in candidates is structural. They enjoy no support from either party, financial or otherwise. And voters have to take several extra steps at the ballot box.

Some voters yesterday, according to election judges, were placing write-in votes that might have been meant for the state's attorney race under attorney general.

Election returns show that 151 write-in votes were cast in that race, a number considered quite large. It was more than three times the number of write-in votes cast by Carroll voters in any other statewide race.

Mr. Hickman said Tuesday night that he had no regrets. He said he would return to private practice, specializing in family law and personal injury litigation.

He did not rule out becoming a defense lawyer. Asked whether Mr. Barnes and his staff could look forward to opposing him in the courtroom, he laughed and said, "You never know."

In another law enforcement race that was expected to be closer than it was, incumbent Sheriff John H. Brown defeated his

Democratic challenger, state police Lt. Kenneth L. Tregoning, taking nearly 53 percent of the vote.

Lieutenant Tregoning, who was back behind his desk yesterday as the commander of the Golden Ring state police barracks, said he would continue his 27-year career with the state police.

"I'm not one to dwell on the loss," he said. He couldn't explain why he lost but said he remained convinced he would have made a better sheriff than the incumbent.

Asked whether he should have followed the path taken by Mr. Barnes -- taking on a seemingly popular Republican in the primary -- the lieutenant hesitated.

He said some seasoned politicians recommended to him a year ago that attacking Sheriff Brown in the general election was the better choice. But the shift in the mood of the electorate in the past year took him by surprise.

"There was a Republican sweep across the nation that hit Carroll County, too," he said. "In retrospect, it's all too easy to second-guess.

"I don't believe at the time I decided to run as a Democrat that Republican voters were as dissatisfied with the Democratic leadership as they are now."

Lieutenant Tregoning was a longtime Democrat before spending many years as a registered independent. He switched back to the Democratic Party about a year ago.

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