Reid 11 points behind Kondner leads GOP's field

voter turnout low in city, county

March 06, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Lisa Respers and Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

Del. Elijah E. Cummings, the four-term legislator from West Baltimore, was the winner in yesterday's free-for-all Democratic primary to replace Kweisi Mfume as Maryland's 7th District representative in Congress.

With 75 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Cummings was leading the field of 27 Democrats with 36 percent of the vote.

In what amounted to a two-man race for the Democratic nomination, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III was running second with 24 percent of the vote. Dr. Reid is the powerful pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's stepbrother.

Everyone else trailed distantly, including five other elected officials from across the district, which stretches from East Baltimore across the center of the city and includes most of West Baltimore and western Baltimore County.

"We're very pleased," Mr. Cummings said as he greeted supporters about 10 p.m. "The numbers look real good. They look even better than we thought."

Sen. Delores G. Kelley of Baltimore County was running third with nearly 10 percent of the vote. Baltimore lawyer A. Dwight Pettit was fourth with about 7 percent, followed by Baltimore Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway, who captured 5 percent.

The other high-profile candidates -- Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., Del. Salima Siler Marriott, Del. Clarence Davis and the Rev. Arnold W. Howard -- each had less than 5 percent of the vote.

Yesterday's election was the culmination of an intense, three-month campaign that followed Mr. Mfume's surprise announcement in December that he was stepping down to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

His decision brought out a horde of candidates who sought to take advantage of what was seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Capitol Hill.

The Democratic campaign pitted legislator against legislator, clergyman against clergyman, Eastside against Westside and city against county.

In the Republican primary, Kenneth Kondner, who unsuccessfully ran against Mr. Mfume three times, was leading the five-candidate field for the party's nomination. The race marked the first time in 10 years the GOP had a contested primary in the district.

The Republican nominee will be widely regarded as a sacrificial lamb in two coming general elections, as Democrats account for 83 percent of the district's registered voters.

The winners of the two party primaries will face off in a special election April 16 to determine who will finish the last nine months of Mr. Mfume's term. The two winners will again face each other in the Nov. 5 general election for the full, two-year term that begins in January.

Voter turnout yesterday was abysmally low, with just 20 percent of Baltimore voters casting ballots citywide and 23 percent of county voters going to the polls. One reason was the absence of any real contest in the Democratic presidential primary.

The weather was also a factor. Rain started in the late afternoon, reducing the number of voters who typically go to the polls after work. Political observers also said that many voters were friends of several candidates and, rather than choose among them, opted to stay home.

Four of the 27 Democrats who filed for the seat -- Mark J. Einstein, Dora Due Logue, the Rev. Medgar L. Reid and Gregory T. Truitt -- eventually dropped out of the race, though their names still appeared on the ballot.

Yet the field remained unwieldy, allowing for interested voters to hear only sound-bite answers to questions put to the candidates at a dozen public forums.

TC It was not clear until the polls closed that the electorate had coalesced behind one candidate, unlike 1986, when voters started to shift toward Mr. Mfume and away from other names in the nine-candidate field in the final days of the campaign.

This year, candidate polls consistently showed five candidates -- Mr. Cummings, Dr. Reid, Ms. Kelley, Mr. Pettit and Mrs. Conaway -- jockeying for first place, with a huge percentage of voters in Baltimore City and Baltimore County remaining undecided right up to the end.

Mr. Cummings appeared to be the front-runner in the closing days of the campaign, picking up several key endorsements, including nods from The Sun and the Baltimore Afro-American newspapers. More important, he out-distanced the other candidates in fund-raising.

He used much of the more than $250,000 he raised to get his name and message out to voters through a television ad blitz and a flood of direct-mail pieces, the scale of which no one else touched.

Ms. Kelley also raised enough money to get on the airways, using a campaign that focused on bashing GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Dr. Reid did not get on the air until last weekend, also adopting an anti-Gingrich theme.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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