A primary field sown with strong GOP seeds


September 13, 1998|By Mike Burns

THE HILLS ARE alive, with the sound of campaigning. The sweet siren songs of deceitful Lorelei, luring voters to their rocky reef? The stirring patriotic strains of citizen statesmen, leading the community into new prosperity? Voters will decide.

The crop of candidates is bountiful this year, and it's certainly not due to the weather. Do the contenders sense a political change in the air, or have the perennial issues of growth and charter and taxes mobilized this heightened civic interest?

Nineteen hopefuls have cast their lots for the three county commissioner seats.

Nine entrants are running for three Board of Education positions. Another nine candidates have filed for Tuesday's ballot in the contest to choose three judges of the Orphans' Court. Five persons are vying to become register of wills.

Four years ago, the biggest field in these parts was for three seats as delegate from the 5th Legislative District. Twelve candidates left the starting gate.

And 11 persons ran for two open seats on the school board.

Ten persons ran for county commissioner, with all three positions up for election.

But the most popular contest in 1994 (based on candidates per office) was for U.S. Representative in Maryland's 6th Congressional District. The primary election ballots of Republicans and Democrats drew 10 candidates pursuing the seat.

Few challenges

This year, the strongest attraction for candidates is local office. The fields for state legislature and Congress are sparse.

jTC There is no primary contest for Congress in either party: Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is seeking a fourth term; the only challenger is Democrat Timothy McCown, a political newcomer.

For state delegate in the 5th District, only three candidates are challenging the three incumbents, all of whom are first-termers. The district's state Senate seat is uncontested, as two-term Republican incumbent Larry E. Haines faces no challenge from either party.

One office that was hotly contested four years ago attracted no candidates this year, except the incumbent. Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes faces no opposition in his bid for a second term. Mr. Barnes narrowly beat five-term incumbent Thomas E. Hickman in the 1994 Republican primary, then had to beat him again in the general election when Mr. Hickman conducted a vigorous write-in campaign.

Republican stronghold

Carroll is one of the few Maryland counties with a significant plurality of registered Republican voters. Republicans account for 50 percent of the total, the Democrats for 39 percent, and other parties and "unaffiliated" voters make up 11 percent of nearly 76,000 voters.

And the numbers of Democratic candidates filing for public office in Carroll are far fewer than those running under the Republican banner.

This primary, 42 candidates are on the GOP ballot and 11 are on the Democratic list. That doesn't include the nonpartisan primary for county school board or the intraparty contests for central committee members.

County commissioner is the only local primary race contested among Democratic candidates, with three nominees to be chosen from four entrants.

The relative paucity of Democratic candidates has been well noted by some political aspirants, who have switched parties to improve their chances at the polls.

Several candidates running as Republicans this time formerly ran as Democrats, an affiliation that makes it easier to get on the general election ballot.

But it's also clear that Democrats have fared poorly in recent general elections. So some candidates see that their best hope for winning office is to run in the Republican primary.

Strategies can change, depending on a particular race. So we could even have candidates who lost previous races as Republicans switching to the Democratic party.

Recent Republican swing

The swing to a Republican preponderance only occurred within the past eight years. The numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans in Carroll were about equal in 1990.

Today, there are some 28 percent more registered Republicans than Democrats. In 1988, there were about 15 percent more Democrats registered in the county.

This may be due to an influx of new residents who are Republicans, or to changing philosophies among residents new and old.

But there's another factor. Since most Carroll races are decided in the Republican primary, that is where many people will choose to vote. They register as Republicans to vote in that primary. (Of course, they may have less choice in state races, which are dominated by Democratic candidates.)

This doesn't mean Carroll is a county of purely pragmatic politics. The strong registration of third-party and unaffiliated voters shows that, for a number of people, the primary is secondary.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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