Glendening has tougher job on Election Day

November 01, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

IT HAS come down to this: The winner of Tuesday's race for governor may depend on which candidate gets supporters out to vote.

Turnout is critical. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has by far the bigger challenge: Energizing and organizing a massive outpouring among his backers in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

It won't be easy. He's working in the city without crack voting-day organizers Larry Gibson and Julius Henson. His name will be missing from many sample ballots. Voter registration in the city is way down. No local races excite interest.

He has much the same problem in Prince George's. County Executive Wayne Curry has given a token endorsement. Volunteer firefighters are furious at the governor for allowing the demise of profitable casino nights. Others are mad at him for not doing more to boost schools there. With no spirited local races, turnout isn't likely to reach 1994's level. One indicator: Requests for absentee ballots -- a good barometer of voter turnout -- have fallen well short of 1994's figures.

Voter-rich Montgomery

The governor may fare better in populous Montgomery, where traditional Democrats could turn out in large numbers. Meanwhile, President Clinton's scheduled appearance today at a West Baltimore church should give Mr. Glendening needed momentum. He may need it.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey has a lopsided edge in the rest of the state, where voter registration has been rising. Her supporters will show up at the polls, regardless of the weather.

Each side has done its best to tar and feather the opponent. Innuendoes and half-truths have dominated the local air waves.

Her ads make it seem like he favored football stadiums over schools (not true); his ads make it sound like she's anti-civil rights (not true). She continues to promise big tax cuts, without saying how we can afford them; he continues to pander to every interest group, regardless of the cost or practicality.

Neither candidate has run an exemplary campaign. Each has opted for the low road. They have lost control, letting paid media consultants go on the attack, and may the truth be damned.

They have dodged debates, thus denying citizens their best way of judging the two nominees. They have refused to give specifics on what they would do in office. Everything is in generalities, boiling down complex problems to one-line campaign snippets.

Much is at stake.

For Democrats, this election will show if the old Roosevelt coalition (blacks, Jews and union workers) still holds sway.

Will enough blue-collar Democrats stay with their party? Will the Jewish vote splinter between its more conservative and more liberal members? Will a bigger African-American turnout make up the difference?

Suburban influence

Demographics are running strongly against the Democrats. Fast-growing suburbs are favoring Republican candidates. The Democrats' traditional strength in the city is hurt by Baltimore's continuing population loss. The governor's strongholds have become islands in a sea of Republican-leaning counties.

Look at where the two campaigned on the final four days: Mr. Glendening scheduled most of his time in Baltimore City and County, and Prince George's and Montgomery counties; Ms. Sauerbrey scheduled a rigorous bus tour hitting all corners of the state and nearly every subdivision.

And yet Mr. Glendening may succeed in persuading enough Democrats and independents that Ms. Sauerbrey is too far right of center to be entrusted with state government. She has not shown much skill in detailing a moderate agenda to a skeptical electorate.

For Republicans, this could be the year. If the GOP cannot win with a personable nominee and a weak Democratic incumbent, what hope is there for a turnaround anytime soon? A GOP loss could give Democrats a clear edge, through redistricting, for a decade or more.

A GOP loss could also renew the fractious internal debate about the party's failure to offer statewide candidates with centrist political positions. Perhaps asking Marylanders to accept a committed, conservative agenda in the 1990s is expecting too much.

But if Ms. Sauerbrey wins, we could be on the brink of becoming a true two-party state. The locus of political power may shift to the conservative suburbs. And Democrats would conduct their own fractious debate about fielding candidates who lean too far left of the political center to appeal to Maryland's mainstream voters.

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

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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