Dems must stem the GOP wave

October 25, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

CAN Parris Glendening pull off another cliffhanger victory in the race for governor? Possibly, but some pivotal numbers favor challenger Ellen Sauerbrey.

One largely ignored set of numbers shows a huge increase in registered voters in the 20 counties Ms. Sauerbrey won four years ago. If these folks participate and vote at the same rate for her as four years ago, it would catapult her into the lead.

In these 20 Sauerbrey counties, voter rolls have grown by 188,645. In the three subdivisions that Mr. Glendening carried four years ago, the active voter rolls are down 18,540. If voter turnout in each subdivision equals the 1994 totals, and the vote splits as it did that year, Ms. Sauerbrey would walk away with a 30,000-vote victory.

The governor's biggest concern is in Baltimore City. The list of active voters dropped by a stunning 59,140. The city's shrinking population hurts Mr. Glendening because the governor won three out of four city votes in 1994.

Then there is the voter turnout on Election Day. Two vital PTC Glendening subdivisions -- the city and Prince George's County -- pose a particular problem: How do you excite Democrats when local races are not truly contested? Democrats have a lock on every P.G. and city office this year.

It will be tough to equal 1994's turnout -- 54 percent in Prince George's and 46 percent in the city. Indeed, some Baltimore politicians predict city turnout could dip as low as 35 percent.

Compare that with the high turnout predicted in pro-Sauerbrey counties. Voter interest in county races is especially keen in Anne Arundel (60 percent for Sauerbrey last time), Harford (65 percent Sauerbrey) and Howard (54 percent Sauerbrey).

Then there is the lack of personal enthusiasm for Mr. Glendening. He belatedly won endorsements from Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and P.G. County Executive Wayne Curry, but neither is working overtime. Mr. Schmoke's political organizer, Larry Gibson, remains on the sidelines.

Mr. Glendening is getting solid support from Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan. Montgomery looks like a make-or-break county for the governor. He won there with 59 percent of the vote, and he needs a whopping turnout this time.

But in populous Baltimore County, County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger isn't going all-out for the governor. That's a recognition of the dire situation in eastern Baltimore County, where local Democratic candidates are avoiding any linkage to the unpopular governor.

Mr. Glendening's chances rest in large measure on generating fear among traditional Democrats. He has to convince them that Ellen Sauerbrey would obliterate schools, colleges, health care and the city; that she would reduce minority appointments; that she would force up local taxes by slashing state aid to the counties to pay for her tax cuts.

In other words, the governor's got to scare the heck out of voters.

That's a tough task in light of Ms. Sauerbrey's softer and gentler -- and more personable -- approach. She doesn't come across as an extremist, though there's no doubt she truly believes that less government is better for everyone.

Apparently, Mr. Glendening's media handlers have given up the idea of making Mr. Glendening a more appealing personality. So they are left with "attack" ads highlighting Ms. Sauerbrey's record of negativism on most major government programs of the past two decades.

Will that be enough? The governor has an edge in advertising, thanks to help from labor unions. And the national GOP and its allied special interests seem so focused on congressional races that the Sauerbrey camp might not get as much help as expected.

Defeating an incumbent Democrat in Maryland is always an against-the-odds struggle. Even a governor as weak in public perception as Mr. Glendening should still be able to find a way to win, given the lopsided Democratic voter registration in this state. But Ms. Sauerbrey is a highly popular figure in the fast-growing suburbs, which are becoming the dominant factor in statewide elections.

That could set the stage for a Republican victory, if Ms. Sauerbrey can optimize her stunning lead among those who have signed up to vote since the last election.

Barry Rascovar, deputy editorial page editor, is the author of "The Great Game of Maryland Politics," published by The Baltimore Sun.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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