Clinton's Maryland showing matches strong effort in 1992 Win boosts confidence of state's Democrats foir races in 1998

Election 1996

November 06, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Bill Clinton's effortless victory in Maryland yesterday matched his strong 1992 showing and pumped confidence into state Democrats worried about holding on to the governor's office in 1998.

The president's strategy of taking heavily Democratic Maryland for granted during the campaign season was more than vindicated.

Though he never campaigned here, Clinton claimed at least 54 percent of the vote, easily sweeping aside his Republican challenger, Bob Dole. Reform Party candidate Ross Perot ran well behind his 1992 pace in Maryland with less than half the votes he drew then.

After the GOP-dominated elections of 1994, when a Republican almost won the governorship here, Clinton's decisive victory marked a return to the norm of strong Democratic performances in presidential elections.

"What we have done is reverse the slippage," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat who easily retained his 3rd District seat in Congress. "The trend now is toward issues the Democratic Party stands for. Republicans are seen as very extreme, and Democrats more moderate."

"We'll be stronger in '98," said Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore's mayor.

"He's given us a role model and road map," Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, said of Clinton's victory. "He's shown us we can maintain our principles as well as our electoral viability.

"A year ago we were in danger of being marginalized. Now we're going to win not just Maryland but states like Maine, Florida and Ohio. The country has become more conservative, but he's shown us how to protect our programs rhetorically," Franchot said.

But a leading Maryland Republican also claimed victory yesterday.

"The president was re-elected," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the GOP's 1992 candidate for governor, "on the Republican 'Contract with America,' which he co-opted and claimed as his own. He's the most successful chameleon I have ever seen in politics."

Clinton's victory may encourage Maryland Democrats, but Sauerbrey says her likely 1998 opponent, Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- as low now in the public opinion polls as the president was two years ago -- does not have Clinton's political recovery skills.

Although Dole's promise of a 15 percent tax cut seemed to earn him little support, Sauerbrey said she believes it will remain a major issue in 1998 if the Democrats don't act to cut taxes significantly in Maryland before then.

"I don't think Dole really campaigned on the tax message," Sauerbrey said. "He dropped it in and then almost walked away from it."

Dole did not kill the tax-cut initiative for her in Maryland, she insisted.

"It has more significance in Maryland than almost anywhere else because of Maryland's extremely high tax level and because the economic recovery has been slow and spotty. When you compare Maryland's economy with the economies of other states we are one of the most stagnant. The tax issue is a major part of making our economy grow."

Turnout yesterday was higher than expected -- boosted by a number of closely fought local contests, sunny skies and temperatures reaching toward 60 degrees. A presidential campaign widely regarded as uninspiring led some to predict lower-than-average voter participation.

Gene M. Raynor, chief of the state elections board, called the turnout "heavy" -- about 75 percent. That figure will rise "substantially," he said, because there are about 80,000 absentee ballots to be counted.

Organized labor, women and the Democratic Party made a big effort to get out their well-targeted vote -- particularly in the state's 2nd District, where the unions hoped to unseat first-term Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Ehrlich and all other incumbent Maryland members of Congress were re-elected yesterday.

Though the GOP continues to gain strength among the state's 2.5 million registered voters, Democrats still hold a 1.9-to-1 advantage over Republicans.

Voters registered as other than Democrats or Republicans number 293,833 in the state -- up 54,970 since 1992. Democrats gained 12,064 voters since 1992.

Still, the president rolled to victory in Maryland, as he did in 1992, on the strength of his party's dominance in the urbanized swath of Democratic strength between Baltimore and Bethesda in Montgomery County.

In addition to Dole's failure to find a fetching political agenda, Clinton won Maryland in true Democratic fashion, keeping his base intact by rewarding it in places like Baltimore with many bits of assistance, including a $100 million Empowerment Zone grant.

Cuts in welfare benefits, soon to be felt in the inner city, have not been deep enough so far to kill the Democratic voting instinct -- still very much in evidence among city voters. And even if the pain were fully realized, Democratic voters said during the election they could scarcely hope for better with a Republican victory.

Similarly, the more Republican counties of the Eastern Shore, the western mountains and the metropolitan Baltimore suburbs stood largely with Dole.

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