Fighting among themselves Howard County: Contested primaries are another sign of GOP's growing strength.

October 15, 1997

A FUNNY THING happened to Gail Bates on her way to assuming the Howard County Council seat being vacated by one of her closest political friends. She ran into a challenge from a longtime ally who has perhaps the most respected surname among county Republicans.

Allan Kittleman's announcement last week that he would challenge Ms. Bates for the 5th District seat on the county legislative body is another sign of the growth of the Republican Party in a jurisdiction once dominated by Democrats.

Until recently, only Democrats dueled in local primaries. Republicans, at best, united behind single candidates and often searched desperately for candidates willing to become sacrificial lambs.

But that was when Democrats held a wide margin in voter registration. Democrats still hold an edge, but the margin has tightened. Republicans now control the County Council and the county executive's seat and hold a slim majority in the county's delegation in Annapolis.

The local GOP's growth outpaces the rise of the party statewide. Maryland has had only four Republican governors this century, none in the last 28 years.

But the party's renaissance became evident three years ago when former Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey challenged and defeated former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley in the GOP gubernatorial primary and came within a whisker of the State House.

The Bates-Kittleman battle is the second major contest expected between county Republicans next year.

GOP voters also may have to choose between Council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader and Councilman Charles C. Feaga in a primary race for county executive.

There will be growing pains for the GOP. As a county Democratic leader said, the Republicans are used to the luxury of being able to choreograph their moves.

With Ms. Bates running against Mr. Kittleman, the 38-year-old son of Del. Robert H. Kittleman, there's greater chance for emerging factions in the party to clash with one another.

Mud slung between candidates before the primary may be difficult to wash off by the general election. But messy politics is often a sign of strength.

The Democrats may soon long for the days when they were the only ones capable of fighting among themselves.

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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