'Pennies for Lane' left him bereft

September 17, 1996|By Gilbert Sandler

An article on yesterday's op/ed page incorrectly stated the outcome of the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Blair Lee III finished second, not third, with about 194,000 votes.

* The Sun regrets the error.

CAMPAIGN SLOGANS are designed to be the stuff of history, but few live up to expectations. One memorable exception came out of the 1966 gubernatorial campaign of George P. Mahoney.

Exploiting the tense racial climate of those days, Mahoney sought to pander to some white voters' fears about integrated housing. His slogan: ''Your home is your castle. Protect it!'' He lost -- to Spiro Agnew, whose slogan, ''My kind of man,'' was sung to the tune of ''My kind of town, Chicago is.''


In the late 1920s Albert C. Ritchie ran for governor using the slogan, ''He's Maryland's greatest governor, Why change?'' He won.

In the 1959 mayoralty race, the Grady-Goodman-Graham ticket used ''Three G's For Good Government.'' They won.

Phil Goodman's own campaign for president of the City Council that year employed the slogan, ''Vote for a GOODman!'' (Get it?)

When Walter Orlinsky was running for mayor of Baltimore (1971), his campaign literature styled him as ''BaltiMORElinsky!'' He lost.

Defender of the U.S.A.

And Tommy D'Alesandro, Jr. (''Old Tommy'') had himself sung into office to the tune of the Notre Dame victory march: ''Cheer, cheer for Tommy Dee A/ He is the winner of every fray/ Cast your vote for Tommy Dee A/ The defender of the U.S.A.''

(Why it was claimed that the mayor of Baltimore would be defending the entire United States of America was not made clear. But let it go . . .)

Among the most effective campaign slogans was the one used against William Preston Lane by the campaign of Theodore R. McKeldin in the 1950 gubernatorial race. It broke all the rules of political sloganeering by actually mentioning the opposition's name! Lane had, during his administration, introduced the state sales tax. McKeldin's strategists, sensing the electorate's irate mood, bruited the slogan ''Pennies For Lane!'' McKeldin himself never uttered the words or became identified with them. But the anti-sales tax voters threw pennies at Lane whenever he made a public appearance.

Lane may be the only candidate in the history of American politics who was beaten by a slogan his opponent never used.

Perhaps the most memorable Maryland election in modern times was the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 1978. It produced stunning surprises and raised the question of the power of the press -- and the power of the political poll.

With his feet up

Shortly after 8 p.m. on election night, September 12, 1978, Transportation Secretary and candidate Harry Hughes was relaxing with his feet on the bed in his suite in the Lord Baltimore Hotel when his campaign manager, Joseph M. Coale, barged in.

Hughes had been a long shot in the four-man race. He himself had assumed that the Democratic nomination (which in heavily Democratic Maryland was what counted) would go to the odds-on favorite, Blair Lee III, the lieutenant governor who had become acting governor upon the fall from grace of Marvin Mandel. Theodore Venetoulis, the Baltimore County Executive, was given an outside chance at an upset. Walter Orlinsky, the Baltimore City Council president, languished at the bottom of the polls with Hughes.

Hughes is reported to have said wearily to Coale, ''I'm glad it's all over.'' Upon which Coale showed him the returns from a precinct in Bel Air. Hughes led Lee by 3 to 1! How was this possible in even one precinct? What about those opinion polls? What about Lee's quasi-incumbent status, and the money and backing of the Maryland Democratic political establishment? Of the Hughes campaign, Harry McGuirk, the South Baltimore pol, had scoffed: ''Hughes? A lost ball in the tall grass.''

Need for reform

But breezes had begun to agitate the grass. The Sun and The Evening Sun unexpectedly had endorsed Hughes. And two days before the vote, a poll showed Hughes still behind, but closing. Orlinsky was to say later that there was a felt need for reform among Maryland Democrats and Hughes came to be seen as the reform candidate. For whatever reason, momentum seemed to be shifting.

And so on that election night, a stunned Venetoulis, conceding BTC defeat, told his supporters at the Pikesville Hilton: ''I'm going back to my books, my teaching and my writing.''

At Martin's West, Lee made a halting farewell speech: ''A funny thing happened on the way to the statehouse,'' he said. ''I was running a pretty good race. I was looking sideways to Venetoulis and all of a sudden I looked out front and there was Harry.''

His second choice

At his storefront headquarters at 1100 Cathedral Street Orlinsky declared: ''If I hadn't voted for myself I would have voted for Hughes.''

The final totals: Orlinsky, 24,669; Venetoulis, 136,925; Lee, 119,030; and Hughes, 210,263.

Some lost ball.

President Clinton is from Arkansas, Senator Dole is from Kansas. One of them will make it to the presidency. Did anybody from Maryland ever make it? No, but one ran hard and many thought he might make it.

Maryland's immensely popular Gov. Albert C. Ritchie went into the presidential campaign of 1924 as a dark horse, but lost to John W. Davis of West Virginia. Ritchie tried again in 1928 but failed to get sufficient support and withdrew. In 1932 30,000 people gathered at Penn Station to send Ritchie off to the Democratic convention singing: ''There's a President in the Heart of Maryland.'' This time he lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt -- 664 votes to Ritchie's 21.

Ritchie's luck would continue to go bad. He finally received recognition -- a highway named after him. And it turned into a used- car lot.

B6 Gilbert Sandler writes from, and about, Baltimore.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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