Democrats seek gains in Carroll Analysts, opponents say advances unlikely in Republican county

Sauerbrey might help GOP

Incumbent delegate is judged most likely to win for Democrats

September 27, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll Democrats will go to the polls in November looking to end a 16-year losing streak in the Republican-dominated county.

But their GOP counterparts are saying, "Don't count on it." Many are predicting the worst shellacking ever for local Democrats.

Things couldn't get much worse. The party, which trails Republicans in registrations by 8,416 votes (38,247 to 29,831), has been losing ground steadily since 1982, when four Democrats were elected to state and local office.

That number was sliced to three in 1984, two in 1990, and one in 1994.

But this year, "We're looking to reverse that trend," said Philip R. Miller, chairman of the local Democratic Central Committee.

Democrats expect to return incumbent Ellen Willis Miller (no relation to the committee chairman) of Westminster to the House of Delegates. They also believe they have a good shot in the County Commissioner race, and in the state House and Senate races in western Carroll and eastern Frederick counties, Miller said.

However, most observers say the Democrats have realistic chances in only two races -- Miller's defense of her House seat and the County Commissioner race in which Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. is forecast as a possible spoiler.

Despite her popularity and knowledge of local issues, two-term school board member Ann M. Ballard, for example, is given little or no chance against three-term GOP incumbent Donald B. Elliott in the western Carroll-eastern Frederick House of Delegates race.

Ballard, running without opposition, polled 1,351 votes in the primary, compared with the 2,447 ballots captured by Elliott.

"Elliott's numbers are probably a pretty good prediction," said political analyst Donald R. Jansiewicz, professor of political science at Carroll Community College in Westminster. "I don't think he will be surprised in the general [election]. He looks pretty solid."

Regardless, "You can never figure out what the electorate is going to do on Election Day," said W. David Blair, a Republican Central Committee member.

Blair should know. He, too, looked solid only to be unpleasantly surprised twice in the past four years.

In 1994, when seeking the GOP nomination for one of three legislative seats in eastern Carroll, he finished second. But he finished fourth in the general election, losing to Richard N. Dixon. The governor later appointed Miller to take Dixon's place in the legislature when Dixon became state treasurer.

Republican incumbent Joseph M. Getty doesn't think Miller can win against Republican challenger Carmen Amedori of Westminster. Getty is seeking re-election to one of eastern Carroll's three House of Delegates seats with Nancy R. Stocksdale of Westminster.

The Democrats left two seats vacant in the primary so they could "single shoot" in the three-seat race in the general election, Getty said.

"Single shooting is a reasonable strategy for Miller" in a Republican-controlled district, Getty said, "but she's 7,000 votes off the pace. She has some power of incumbency, but that's only 1,000 to 2,000 votes. The Democratic leadership didn't want anybody else in order to make a plea to single shoot. But I don't think rank-and-file Democrats are going to accept that plea."

But political analyst Jansiewicz sees Miller as having a very good chance to return to Annapolis.

Democrats will turn out in greater numbers for the general election, he predicts, because there was little to interest them in the primary. Virtually all of their primary races were uncontested. Republicans, on the other hand, have already showed their strength in primary battles, he said.

"Miller, even as a nonelected incumbent, has an advantage unless she had done something terribly wrong in her tenure," Jansiewicz said. "My take on it is that although she is in a Republican-dominated district, she has not seemed to get out of bounds. She's not running as a liberal. She's taking more of an economic-development position friendly to her constituency."

Blair also said Miller may be tough to beat.

"Ellen should not be underestimated," he said. "She has the ability to run a campaign and be elected. She has built a record, and she's going to be asking the voters whether they're satisfied with that record."

Likewise, incumbent Republican Timothy R. Ferguson looks strong in his western Carroll-eastern Frederick state Senate race against former House of Delegates member George H. Littrell Jr., Jansiewicz said.

Although Ferguson has been criticized as a loner by some within his party, that criticism does not appear to have hurt him at the polls, Jansiewicz said.

"There is no indication that he has not tended his garden" with constituents seeking services, Jansiewicz said. "He doesn't have be loved. He just has to be recognized."

Ferguson devastated primary challenger Jerome J. Joyce in the Carroll portion of the district, winning 87 percent of the vote, but won by only 13 percentage points in the Frederick portion of the district, where most of the voters live.

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