Key to Cummings' win in 7th was more money His $250,000 coffer far outstripped funds raised by 26 rivals

March 08, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

In Elijah E. Cummings' decisive victory in Tuesday's race for the 7th District congressional seat being vacated by Kweisi Mfume, the four-term legislator from West Baltimore relied on a time-honored imperative of politics: money.

Delegate Cummings raised more than $250,000 -- far and away the most in the 27-candidate Democratic primary. His flush financial position allowed him to pound home his message on television and saturate voters with targeted direct-mail pieces.

That, and the backing of key political leaders and organizations, helped Mr. Cummings grab more than 37 percent of the vote -- and carry precincts across the district, including those in his opponents' political back yards.

"By the time we got three weeks into our fund-raising cycle, I knew we would have a sufficient amount of money to spell doom and gloom for the other candidates," said Julius Henson, Mr. Cummings' campaign manager.

The sprawling district stretches from the city's Eastside through West Baltimore and western Baltimore County. As early as January, the ever-confident Mr. Henson predicted that his candidate had the race sewn up in both the city and county, and that he would win by 10 points.

In fact, he won by 13.

His stiffest competition, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, finished second with 24 percent of the vote. Dr. Reid is the well-known pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mr. Cummings also put away a challenge by state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, who ran a distant third with about 10 percent of the vote.

He defeated Ms. Kelley even in her home base of Baltimore County -- getting 4,522 votes to her 3,260 -- though she had the backing of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III.

Token opposition in April

Mr. Cummings, who faces token GOP competition for the seat in a special election April 16 to fill the last nine months of Mr. Mfume's term, got the jump on the other candidates by moving quickly to lock up key financial and political support.

The early work paid off.

In Baltimore County, which many saw as the battleground where the election would be decided, Ms. Kelley won only nine of 32 precincts -- and none of the 14 precincts in her own legislative district of Woodlawn and Randallstown.

There, Dr. Reid stole from Ms. Kelley's voter base, beating her in half of her home precincts -- and allowing Mr. Cummings to win all of them handily.

Arthur W. Murphy, a vice president of Mason-Dixon Campaign Polling & Strategy Inc. and a consultant to the Kelley campaign, agreed that the difference was money.

'Outspent 3-to-1'

"It's simple: We got outspent 3-to-1," Mr. Murphy said. "When you don't have the early money, in large volumes, executing a campaign plan is very difficult.

"Our direct-mail program was top-drawer, but we were unable to launch it," Mr. Murphy said.

He said contributions to Ms. Kelley picked up only in the final days of the race. That meant that Ms. Kelley could not afford to go on television until late in the game -- and not to the extent she would have liked.

"We didn't have the money to do the comparative negatives, which would have highlighted the shortcomings of our principal opponents, Cummings and Reid," he said.

In the city, the race was clearly between Mr. Cummings and Dr. Reid, a Sun review of election results showed. But even in West Baltimore, where Dr. Reid should have run strongly, he seemed only to match Mr. Cummings.

For instance, at the two polling places in Harlem Park Elementary School, Mr. Cummings beat Dr. Reid, 248-126. And at Gwynns Falls Elementary School, where voters from three precincts voted, Mr. Cummings clobbered him by more than a 2-1 ratio.

Even at the polling place at the McCulloh Homes, down the street from Dr. Reid's church, the pastor eked out just 24 more votes than Mr. Cummings, 124-100.

In North and Northeast Baltimore, where Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. should have run strongly, Mr. Cummings led the way.

'Machine usually wins'

At First English Lutheran Church at Charles and East 39th streets, Mr. Cummings got 236 votes to Mr. Montague's 124. Ms. Kelley drew 63 votes -- and Dr. Reid a mere seven.

"I think the race proved that when you have a low voter turnout, the machine usually wins," said Catherine E. Pugh, spokeswoman for the Reid campaign.

She said Mr. Cummings "had everything in his favor," citing his rTC endorsements by The Sun and the Baltimore Afro-American newspapers.

"When you come down to the wire, with two weeks to go, and not to be endorsed by any of the publications in the city can be a blow to any campaign," she said.

"It makes it difficult to raise money."

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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