Election results could be an omen for Glendening Governor's influence, popularity seen flagging

Election 1996

November 07, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Bill Clinton's big win in Maryland on Tuesday was pleasing to the Democratic Party here, but it left worrisome straws in the wind for the party's leader, Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Clinton improved on his 1992 performance, but Maryland did not reach the heights of support it gave the president four years ago, when only his home state of Arkansas produced a higher winning percentage.

Several states did better for the president this time: New York (59 percent), Rhode Island (60 percent), Massachusetts (62 percent) and Hawaii (58 percent). Several others came close to or matched the 54% Clinton achieved here.

"I think to some degree the governor was a drag on Clinton," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat. "We were not the best this time, and that's attributable to the perception of the Democratic Party because of the governor."

Had Glendening not been so low in the polls, Rosenberg reasoned, voters would have been more positively inclined toward Democratic candidates, including Clinton.

That was not the only ominous aspect of the election for the governor.

The Democratic Party's failure to reclaim control of the House of Representatives could produce more potential competition for Glendening in a Democratic primary in two years.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 3rd District Democrat who easily dispatched his Republican challenger on Tuesday, might now think seriously about running for governor, since he cannot rise in House leadership controlled by Republicans. Had he been able to move up to a committee chairmanship where he could influence the shaping of health care policy, Cardin might have taken himself out of consideration for the State House.

Regarded by some as the strongest potential Democratic challenger to Glendening, Cardin ran TV advertisements in his congressional contest that had a statewide cast to them: "Our Ben Cardin," they said, "Good for Maryland." Cardin got 67 percent of the vote in a district that wraps around Baltimore, the heart of the Democratic Party in the state.

In the 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis -- backed to some degree by Glendening -- lost badly to Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who took pains to suggest that his victory was a repudiation of the governor.

The perception that Glendening was hurt in this race has another dimension: DeJuliis was heavily backed by organized labor, thought to be one of the pillars of Glendening's own support. If labor really worked in this election, labor is a force of dubious value. Ehrlich won with 62 percent of the vote, compared with 38 percent for DeJuliis.

In Prince George's County an effort to repeal the tax-limiting law known as TRIM was defeated, suggesting that voters there have little confidence in government's ability to handle their money wisely.

Since he was Prince George's County executive until 1994, when he left to run for governor, Glendening may get some of the blame for this lack of faith. He left Prince George's with a $100 million budget deficit and a series of embarrassments involving pension payouts he approved before he left.

More than half of Maryland voters surveyed after leaving the voting booth Tuesday disapproved of Glendening's performance. The poll was conducted by Voter News Service, a partnership of the Associated Press and television networks, involving 840 voters at 20 precincts.

Glendening told the Associated Press he wasn't worried by the poll, only the latest such measurement showing him in trouble with voters. Like Clinton, who rose dramatically from dismal approval ratings two years ago, Glendening believes he will recover.

So does Mary Jo Neville, vice chair of the Democratic Party in Maryland. The 1994 Republican challenger, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, has already missed her best chance, Neville said.

"If Republicans couldn't make it happen in Maryland then," she said, "they have little hope in Maryland. There's been no ideological shift here. The last time a Republican was elected in Maryland was when [Spiro] Agnew was elected [in 1966] as a liberal."

But Republicans continue to out-register Democrats in Maryland and so do Independents. Sauerbrey and other Republicans, moreover, are probably correct when they observe that Clinton did well in part because he ran on a more centrist, even conservative, platform.

If that means the state is trending away from a strictly Democratic profile, Glendening's comeback could be more difficult. For now, his partisans choose to focus on the Democratic gains made by Clinton. The president won nine counties this year, compared with five in 1992.

Nevertheless, some Democrats in Maryland remain concerned about the vulnerability of the man they will run with at the head of the ticket in 1998.

"We need a Democratic candidate who will preserve the governor's mansion and the legislature for Democrats," Rosenberg said. "We need a progressive majority, so we are not taken over by [Newt] Gingrich clones."

Tuesday's result aside, Glendening will be on his own in 1998.

"It all revolves around him," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, usually a Glendening partisan. "We're fractured right now," he said referring to the Democratic Party. "If Glendening improves, 1998 will be a good year for us. If he doesn't improve, it could be a debacle."

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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