GOP sees upsets in county, assembly Republicans confident Democratic voters will cross party lines

October 14, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As he listened to the noisy banter of 200 Baltimore County Republicans gathered at his Fullerton fund-raiser, Allen Thompson, a political newcomer running for the 5th District council seat, couldn't help but be pleased.

True, U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. couldn't attend, but the congressman's wife, Kendel, told the crowd he was "off doing God's work -- defining the word 'is' " -- a not-so-subtle reference to President Clinton's grand jury testimony.

With a Democratic president on the defensive and native daughter Ellen R. Sauerbrey running hard for the governor's job, county Republicans hope to add seats on the County Council and in the legislature, solidifying the gains made in recent years.

"People are annoyed at the powers-that-be, and they want to make changes," said Christopher R. West, chairman of the county's Republican State Central Committee.

County Democrats reject such claims of voter unrest, insisting they will be able to hold the line at a time when the local economy remains strong and Democratic lawmakers have been able to deliver for their constituents.

"We know in some areas we'll have some hard fights, but I believe we have the energy and commitment to toe the party line," said Larry Simmons, who recently finished a term as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee.

Republican fortunes in the county have waxed and waned over the last eight years.

In 1990, the party scored upsets at all levels, capturing the county executive's spot for the first time since 1962, winning three council seats and electing two state delegates in the northeast's previously Democratic 8th District.

Four years later, the Democrats roared back, recapturing the executive's spot and control of the council. But Republicans gained three more delegates' seats that year, winning one each in heavily Democratic Essex and Catonsville, and another in Towson.

To close the gap with Democrats, however, Republicans are relying on voters to cross party lines in a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1.

While capturing power in Annapolis is important to the parties, it means far less to voters, who tend to vote for personalities rather than political parties. Indeed, many candidates downplay their party affiliation.

That's why Dundalk Democrat Del. Jacob J. Mohorovic Jr. stayed away from the 7th District's party unity ticket -- and led his colleagues by more than 1,000 votes in the primary.

It explains J. Joseph "Max" Curran's decision to run alone in Parkville's 8th District, instead of joining the ticket with Democratic incumbents Del. Katherine Klausmeier and state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell.

"I wanted people to feel that if they elected me, they had an independent voice in Annapolis," said Curran, son of Maryland's attorney general and the youngest member of one of Baltimore's oldest, most entrenched Democratic families.

Democrats hope a Curran victory on Nov. 3 will eliminate one of two incumbent 8th District Republicans -- either Perry Hall's Alfred W. Redmer Jr. or James F. Ports Jr.

Elsewhere, as in the heavily Democratic east side, Republicans are hoping for historic advances.

They are pinning their hopes on winning a delegate's seat, with former Ehrlich aide Jane Brooks running in Dundalk's 7th District. And they are betting that Ken Holt can unseat 20-year incumbent Democrat Michael J. Collins in the 6th District that extends from Essex to Kingsville.

Other Republican legislative challengers are Christian Cavey, seeking a delegate's spot in the northwest's 11th District, and David Maier, who is running against Democratic state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer in Catonsville's 12th District.

At the council level, Republicans are hoping that Thompson will knock off Perry Hall Democrat Vincent J. Gardina in the 5th District, and that John D. Manley -- husband of former Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley -- can unseat Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, in Catonsville.

The GOP is seeking to exploit cracks in Democratic unity, said West, the Republican Central Committee chairman.

He mentioned the 11th District, where "an extremely divisive Democratic primary" eliminated incumbent Democrat Robert L. Frank -- giving Cavey, a Hampstead insurance broker running his second race, a better shot.

Democrats have a far different perspective.

In the 11th District, for example, they say voters are pleased with increased funding for school projects and for repairs to older neighborhoods. With the economy still good, they see little chance of an upset.

In Catonsville, Democrats hope former police officer Steve J. DeBoy Sr., who's been campaigning for more than a year, can win a seat back from Republican freshman Donald E. Murphy -- but Murphy says DeBoy is just as likely to knock off fellow Democrat James E. Malone Jr.

Simmons, the former Democratic Central Committee chairman, says the GOP hope for victory in the 11th District is just a "pipe dream."

"People will hold the party line over there," he said.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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