WASHINGTON -- Maryland's congressional delegation, for the most part, responded positively to President Clinton's State of the Union address last night. Which wasn't too surprising since 8 of its 12 members are Democrats.
But the reaction to Mr. Clinton's blueprint for the future of his administration -- his pledges of new tax cuts, continued reduction of the deficit and the federal work force, his call for more bipartisanship -- did not cleave to the lines drawn through the state by political parties.
Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican and the newest member of the delegation, called the president's speech "eloquent" but saw Mr. Clinton's positions as closer to the political center than the positions of the majority of his fellow Democrats in the Congress.
"They are centrist words, well meaning," Mr. Ehrlich said, but noted: "I want to see what positions the administration takes toward the 'Contract [with America'] items over the next six months, to see if this reflects a real change of heart."
But the more conservative Republican, Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, said Mr. Clinton had delivered "a good speech," adding that "to his credit he was listening to the American voters and that was very clear, and it was very clear also that he got his biggest applause when he said he wanted a smaller, smarter, less costly government." Mr. Bartlett also said he was "delighted with the prospect of bipartisanship."
Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said that the speech was "a bit too long" at 1 hour and 21 minutes, but that she thought "the president absolutely connected to middle-class voters. He spoke to their hopes and acknowledged their fears. He gave an optimistic vision of the future."
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said he wasn't bothered by the length of Mr. Clinton's speech: "He carried it along pretty well, with certain touches of humor and asides.
"I thought the theme the president sounded throughout the speech, opportunity coupled with responsibility, was right on the mark," said the senator. "He carried out that theme by stressing education and training, developing people's abilities and capacities to the maximum."
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Clinton "set out an ambitious agenda for Congress, and set the tone for the ending of this partisan bickering to get Democrats and Republicans to work together."
Two other Democrats were impressed by the speech, though not in equal measure. Said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland: "I thought it was a good speech. It covered all the points he wanted to make with his New Covenant."
Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore was more restrained. "I think the president finally laid down some non-negotiable items," he said, referring to his defense of the ban on assault weapons and his opposition to punitive welfare reform.
The harshest critic was Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican. "I think it was a very undisciplined, unfocused speech," he said. "He tried to please everybody in the audience one way or another. It had no vision in it. No vision at all."
His fellow Republican, Montgomery County Rep. Constance A. Morella, was less critical. "He's well-intentioned," she said. "He's trying to reach out, but I didn't learn anything new."
Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat, conceded the speech was "a little long, but," he added, "I think he made some sound points on welfare reform, teen pregnancy and raising the minimum wage."