A hard-fought battle is won 1 vote at time Volunteers prod, VTC cajole Maryland voters to polls

Election 1998 : Maryland

November 04, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Michael Dresser | William F. Zorzi Jr. and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Almost as soon as the polls opened, the first lines began forming around the state. By 8 p.m. -- when voting was to end -- there were still long lines at some polling spots.

Democratic Party volunteer Latifa Hamid was part of the reason: The 44-year-old city housing inspector's Election Day job was to prod and cajole as many voters as possible to the polls.

She was among thousands of combatants in a ground war -- one that led to a healthy turnout statewide and better-than-expected participation in key Democratic strongholds.

Like Hamid, several thousand partisans worked from daybreak until late yesterday, pushing and pulling voters to the polls. They made last-minute phone calls, rang doorbells, checked voter lists, and arranged rides for the elderly and disabled.

Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey waged their $12 million rematch largely through a barrage of TV ads.

But in the end, it came down to voter turnout: The hard-fought battle had to be won on the ground -- one vote at a time.

Sauerbrey supporters had largely completed their grass-roots efforts to generate voter enthusiasm by yesterday. They were counting on the true believers.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans had no large apparatus to turn out voters.

They depended on weeks of professional and grass-roots electioneering -- and the loyalty of Sauerbrey supporters. The Maryland GOP had mailed 700,000 brochures and called 400,000 voters across the state since late last month, and a final round of calls lasted until Monday night.

But the Democrats, nervous about losing the governor's mansion for the first time in 32 years in a state where they outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, dusted off their decades-old machinery and injected it with new vigor.

They rallied to Glendening's aid, mobilizing a massive get-out-the-vote campaign that was helped by organized labor, abortion-rights groups and such non-partisan groups as Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In the end, there wasn't much of a contest.

The Democrats' campaign was so effective in getting out the vote in Baltimore that turnout was nine points higher than the city's 46 percent showing four years ago.

And in some precincts, long lines of voters waiting to cast ballots kept polling places open past the 8 p.m. deadline.

All but absent from the effort for Glendening was Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his chief political adviser, Larry S. Gibson, who has enjoyed a reputation for years of being able to turn out African-American voters in the city.

In the primary, Gibson and Schmoke backed Glendening opponent Eileen M. Rehrmann, the Harford County executive.

Pro-urban agenda

But in Baltimore yesterday, Glendening was the beneficiary of a determined, well-organized campaign by BUILD, a church-affiliated organization with an aggressive pro-urban agenda.

Arnie Graf, a BUILD organizer, said the group mobilized more than 200 volunteers to visit 61 Baltimore precincts -- roughly one-third of the city. The volunteers went door to door, working from lists of voters they have contacted over the past several weeks.

Graf said the organization appeared to have exceeded its goals for voter turnout in virtually every one of the precincts it targeted.

He said the city turnout put the lie to what he called the "myth" that Gibson was the master of GOTV efforts in Baltimore.

Throughout Baltimore yesterday, BUILD volunteers in bright yellow T-shirts combed the streets of a heavily African-American East Baltimore precinct, asking voters whether they had had voted. More often than not, the answer was yes.

Whenever they found a potential voter who had not made it to the polls, they offered a ride in their large white van.

One of the volunteers, Blake Ethridge, a 23-year-old Johns Hopkins graduate student, knocked on the door of Shahida Jaundoo on Lanvale Street. The young woman poked her head out a second-story window and said she was registered but unable to leave her home because she was caring for her baby.

Ethridge wouldn't give up, reminding her of the importance of a BUILD after-school program at nearby Bernard Harris Elementary School for which the organization hopes to win state support.

For about a quarter hour, he cajoled her, even offering to have a BUILD volunteer sit with the baby while she voted -- an idea Jaundoo rejected. Then, he assured her that she could bring her baby to the polls and that BUILD would give her a ride.

Finally, the young woman relented and told the BUILD team to pick her up in 20 minutes. Team leader Rob English confirmed later that she had voted.

'Team Maryland'

Meanwhile, in Southwest Baltimore, Hamid was out early as part of "Team Maryland," the Democratic Party's main get-out-the-vote effort.

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