Workshop to teach Democrats campaign skills Republican gains prompt conference and rally

September 16, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A new class is offered for Democrats who have long dominated politics in Baltimore County: Call it "Running for Office 101."

In an age when party loyalty no longer commands the electorate, the county's Democratic State Central Committee is sponsoring a workshop-rally Sept. 27 at University of Maryland, Baltimore County to recruit new candidates and teach them how to run a modern campaign.

A brochure advertising the session -- formally titled "Forward in 1998" -- depicts a Democratic donkey kicking several GOP elephants through the air.

The session is unusual and, some say, overdue.

Republicans gained three seats in the county's General Assembly House delegation in 1994, boosting their strength to seven of 27 delegates.

Meanwhile, Democrats have seen their edge in voter registration shrink. In 1991, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 241,000 to 93,000. Now, that margin is 243,500 Democrats to 108,500 Republicans -- a 17 percent increase for the GOP, compared to a 1 percent gain for Democrats.

Reverse losses

"There are precincts that we've lost," said party Chairman Larry C. Simmons, 46, lamenting Republican victories in the county in the past couple of elections. "We want to win those back."

Said state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, an Arbutus Democrat whose district includes parts of Baltimore and Howard counties: "We can't rely on the old way of doing politics. We've got to learn to run a modern campaign."

A lot to learn

Candidates have a lot to learn.

"You want to know what your precinct is made of," said Simmons, noting that knocking on doors of people who never vote isn't productive. Other lessons will include the proper -- and improper -- ways to raise money, and how the media cover campaigns.

Running for office isn't what it used to be, especially for Democrats in Baltimore County, and despite their more than 2-1 voter registration edge.

"They've always depended on sheer numbers before," said freshman Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy of Catonsville. "People don't vote for Democrats because they're Democrats anymore."

Murphy is one of the Republican delegates who won seats in traditionally Democratic strongholds.

"The Democrats are looking over their shoulders," said freshman Republican Ken Holt, who won a seat in the former 6th District Democratic stronghold of Essex in 1994.

He predicts Republican gains in 1998, saying that "glitzy marketing and slick marketing research" by Democrats won't change voters' preferences for "conservative, fiscally responsible Republicans."

But Democrats say modern methods can help make a difference for them, and they're determined to make changes.

"I think the nature of campaigns has changed," said former Catonsville Del. Kenneth H. Masters, a 16-year veteran Democrat who lost his seat in 1994 to Republican newcomer Murphy. "There was a time when if you got through the primary, you'd won. Obviously, those days are long gone."

Among their changes in strategy, the Democrats are taking a page from the Republicans, who have spent years trying to recruit bright, young newcomers for entry-level spots in the House of Delegates and County Council.

"These are not new tactics," said Towson Republican state senator and Senate Minority Leader F. Vernon Boozer. "It's nice that we have them [Democrats] concerned."

Glendening to speak

Organizers of the Democratic conference expect about 200 to attend. Gov. Parris N. Glendening is scheduled to make a lunchtime pep talk.

"We're taking nothing for granted in the elections of 1998," says state Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat and chairman of the county's Senate delegation.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.