Candidates mixing it up for the general election

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September 20, 1998|By MIKE BURNS

LET THE GAMES begin. With the Carroll County primary over, there's bound to be a mad scramble of politicking in the next six weeks until the general election Nov. 3.

While the Republican nominees are confident, in a county with a strong plurality of registered Republicans, they still face challenges from well-known political figures on the Democratic side.

November's election should be less of a straight-party-ballot affair than in 1994, when Del. Richard N. Dixon was the only Democratic victor in Carroll.

Voters seemed to respond to active personal campaigning by candidates and their supporters in this year's primary. And they strongly prefer deep-dyed conservatives, regardless of party affiliation. That's well understood by Carroll County candidates.

Del. Ellen Willis Miller, appointed to fill Mr. Dixon's position when he became state treasurer, is the only Democratic officeholder. She must face voter judgment on her nearly three years in office.

She's one of two appointed incumbents in Carroll facing election for the first time.

Republican Nancy L. Airing, the register of wills, was named to the position nearly four years ago after 28-year incumbent Reese L. Starner died. She was chief deputy, with 16 years in the register's office. She won decisively in the Republican primary against three opponents.

1990 redux

By the way, has anyone pointed out that the entire county Board of Commissioners elected in 1990 is running for office again this year?

Donald I. Dell is the only one of the trio who is campaigning for re-election as commissioner, seeking a third consecutive term.

Julia Walsh Gouge, who didn't seek re-election in 1994 because of a run at state office, is also seeking a third term as commissioner (having won in 1986 and 1990).

And Elmer C. Lippy Jr., the mayor of Manchester and former commissioner, is on the ballot for one of three judges of the Orphans' Court.

Mr. Lippy, Ms. Miller and George H. Littrell Jr. are Democrats with credible name recognition among local voters. All of them lost in the 1994 Republican sweep of the general election, but have held public office.

Mr. Littrell served three terms as state delegate before losing to Republican Timothy R. Ferguson in the battle for the state Senate seat in Legislative District 4 in 1994.

Mr. Lippy lost his race for re-election as a county commissioner. Ms. Miller (then known as Ellen Willis) was defeated for election as a state delegate from District 5 before being appointed to the seat.

The overall primary turnout was light this year, 29 percent of voters, compared with 39 percent in 1994. Part of the reason may have been hot, humid weather or predictions of voter disgust with politics in light of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

For local Democrats, a certain factor was the lack of contested races. The primary for nomination as a county commissioner drew four candidates vying for three slots. That wasn't much of a race, but it was the only one for Democrats, who turned out 28 percent of their registered partisans. In Legislative District 4B, only 6 percent of Democrats went to the polls.

With so many contested races on the Republican ballot, a high turnout for that party would have been expected. But only 36 percent (compared with 55 percent in 1994) voted in this primary.

Similarly, the nonpartisan school board election should have prompted more voters to do their duty. This year, a majority of the five-member board will be chosen, a significant election in determining who will oversee the largest chunk of the Carroll County budget. But some residents said the superabundance of Republican candidates for county commissioner, 14 for three nominations, was confusing and left them without a clear reason for voting.

Too many choices, too few

Too much choice for Republicans, too little choice for Democrats. Both can be made to explain the relatively low primary turnout.

One candidate who wasn't even on the primary election ballot will be running strong in the general election. Carolyn Fairbank will be listed as an Independent for commissioner, after collecting well over the required 2,250 signatures on petitions for her candidacy.

Well-known for her growth-control efforts in South Carroll, with a strong base in the county's most populous region, Ms. Fairbank still faces an uphill struggle. Many voters will simply vote for their party candidates, ignoring an independent. But her issue is compelling in Carroll: Growth management overlies most of the political issues in the community.

Three Carroll candidates have already won their office, with no opposition in the general election.

State Sen. Larry E. Haines is headed for a third term in Annapolis. Larry W. Shipley, clerk of the Circuit Court, has a clear path to a sixth term. State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, like Mr. Haines, had no opponent in the primary or general elections in his bid for a second term. For them, the game is starting for the 2002 elections.

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

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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