Feeling in Maryland appears to swing back toward Clinton Many callers to Congress say they're upset by release of testimony

The Clinton Investigation

September 23, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- If the calls and e-mails streaming into the offices of the state's congressional delegation are a reliable guide, Marylanders have become more sympathetic to President Clinton since seeing his taped grand jury testimony about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

"It looks like there has been a marked difference from last week," said Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat. Many callers on Monday and yesterday were upset by the public release of the grand jury testimony, Sullam said.

"Most of them were supportive of the president, but angry at Starr, who they said was conducting a McCarthy-like witch hunt into the president's personal life," Sullam said.

Some Republican lawmakers had predicted that Monday's release of the four-hour deposition would inflict deep political wounds on Clinton, who was barraged by prosecutors with explicit questions about his sexual encounters with Lewinsky.

Yet, in office after office, Maryland congressional aides said that the pendulum has floated more toward Clinton -- just 10 days after the release of the initial Starr report left many Americans sputtering at the behavior of the president, according to polls.

While far from scientific, and susceptible to manipulation, constituent reaction is closely monitored by elected officials when volatile issues arise.

To varying degrees, sympathy for Clinton climbed even among those who contacted the three Maryland lawmakers who have called for the president's resignation: Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Wayne T. Gilchrest, all Republicans.

Ehrlich, who represents Harford County and part of Baltimore County, said his office fielded calls Monday that ran 2-to-1 for Clinton's removal by resignation or impeachment -- down from a ratio of 6-to-1 last week.

Calls to Gilchrest, who represents the Eastern Shore and some of Anne Arundel County, were split fairly evenly. A week ago, 80 percent of callers favored resignation or impeachment.

Bartlett, of Western Maryland, also reported a dip in the proportion of constituents who called for Clinton's impeachment, and said many registered anger that such explicit material had been broadcast on daytime television.

Aides to Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, said the telephone and e-mail traffic became much heavier Monday and yesterday, and that it swung in favor of Clinton. On Monday, Mikulski's office registered about 260 calls for the president's departure, but 360 for his remaining in office or against Starr. Sarbanes' office recorded an even more lopsided ratio in favor of Clinton.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat who has supported Clinton, found something of a backlash against Starr, said his spokesman, Chris McCannell. Voters from his district, which includes a rising number of Republicans, were for the first time evenly divided on the president's fate.

"Initially, it was overwhelming -- we heard from a lot of people who were really upset with the president," McCannell said. "You're starting to have more parity."

Clinton has found his most ready support among black Americans and those officials who have many black constituents. He received a warm reception Saturday night at the banquet of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And since his televised address Aug. 17 acknowledging his involvement with Lewinsky, Clinton has appeared several times with Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County, both black Democrats who have been vocal defenders of the president.

That support appeared to remain rock-solid even given the spectacle of the broadcast of a grueling session in which questions about points of law alternated with questions about graphically described sexual acts.

Cummings shared with a reporter all of the more than 30 e-mails he received from constituents Monday after the release of Clinton's testimony. Few were critical of the president. Many more deplored what they saw as an invasion of Clinton's privacy.

"I am unclear on why the sordid details of the President's indiscretions need to be publicized," wrote one correspondent in an e-mail. "I am not condoning the actions of any man or woman who cheats on their spouse but PLEASE enough with the gory details!"

Another implored Cummings, "Please become louder, and more forceful in your eloquence, and please make clear to the Democratic leadership that it's losing the battle and the war by not speaking up more adequately."

Wrote a third: "Four and a half years, fifty million dollars, and many lives ruined by a bible wielding tobacco brat with a blank check to smear maim and defame. Ken Starr is not in search of truth, he is in search of a Coup, and his relentless pursuit is now comical."

A handful did turn their ire on the president. One, who identified himself as a Democrat, said, "Mr. Clinton is obviously guilty of at least perjury. He is mocking our judicial system. Impeach him or repeal the perjury laws."

Ehrlich suggested that public opinion would see-saw as various disclosures emerged. "They're all chapters in little books," he said. "Certainly, it's much closer to half-and-half right now."

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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