GOP chair says time to 'regroup, refuel' Losses to Democrats come despite gains in suburban counties

November 05, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Michael Dresser | William F. Zorzi Jr. and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Shell-shocked Republicans began surveying the wreckage of their party yesterday, after being stopped in their tracks with the crushing defeat of Ellen R. Sauerbrey and the abrupt halt to recent suburban strides in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland.

The trend toward making the state more Republican that picked up steam eight years ago in Baltimore's suburban counties took a nose-dive Tuesday with Sauerbrey's defeat and the loss of two county executive races and dozens of state and local seats to the Democrats.

Falling to the Democrats were the Howard and Anne Arundel county executive slots, along with a loss of seven seats in the House of Delegates and the majorities on the Howard and Anne Arundel county councils.

After strong gains beginning in 1990, the GOP losses Tuesday were a significant setback -- in addition to Sauerbrey's decisive loss to Gov. Parris N. Glendening by 12 points.

"We were on a roll, so naturally we're disappointed," said Joyce ++ Lyons Terhes, who chairs the Maryland Republican Party.

Baltimore County Del. Donald E. Murphy, who apparently squeaked through by a margin of 168 votes, saw little reason to celebrate his victory when as many as eight of his Republican colleagues were headed for defeat.

"I feel like I was sitting in the tail section of a plane crash and all of my friends didn't make it," Murphy said.

The GOP's only significant gain in suburban Maryland this year -- the Harford County executive seat -- paled in comparison to its losses.

"We will regroup and refuel, and learn from what happened," Terhes said. "That's the important thing -- to make sure it doesn't happen again."

'Farm team' losses

Especially troubling for party regulars were the losses among their "farm team" of local office-holders -- on suburban county councils and in legislative delegations -- who were being groomed for higher office.

"We lost some rising stars there -- people like John Morgan," said GOP political consultant Kevin Igoe. Morgan, a Howard County delegate who was a leader of the party's conservative wing in the House, lost to Democrat John A. Giannetti Jr., receiving 41 percent of the vote to Giannetti's 59 percent.

Weak performances in suburban counties were a leading reason that Republicans appeared to be headed for an overall $l seven-seat loss in the House of Delegates in a year that started with an expectation of gains.

If all of the current leads in close races hold up, Republicans will see the 100-41 Democratic majority in the House swell to 107-34, arresting the GOP growth trend of the 1990 and 1994 elections.

In Anne Arundel County, three Republican House incumbents apparently went down in defeat -- for a net loss of two after the party picked up an open seat.

Dels. Phillip D. Bissett and Michael W. Burns lost to Democrats Richard D'Amato and Theodore Sophocleus. Del. Victoria L. Schade was behind Democrat Mary Rosso by 123 votes in a race that could be decided by absentee ballots.

In Baltimore County, Del. James F. Ports was trailing Democrat J. Joseph "Max" Curran III by 30 votes in a race that will be decided by absentee ballots. Republicans also posted a four-seat loss in Montgomery County.

The GOP's hoped-for gains in the state Senate, where the party started and apparently finished with 15 of 47 seats, also failed because of a weak performance in suburban Baltimore.

Despite aggressive Republican challenges, Democrats Edward J. Kasemeyer (Howard-Baltimore counties) and Michael J. Collins Baltimore County) won comfortably. In Anne Arundel, Republican Sen. C. Edward Middlebrooks was defeated by Councilman James E. DeGrange Sr.

The only bright spots for Republicans in suburban legislative races were in Harford County and Carroll County.

In northern Harford, Republicans J. Robert Hooper picked up the seat of Democrat Sen. Donald C. Fry, while Democratic Del. Michael G. Comeau ran third to two Republicans in his two-member subdistrict. In southern Harford, GOP Del. Nancy Jacobs led Democratic Del. Mary Louise Preis by 62 votes in a race for a Republican seat that will be decided by absentee ballots.

In the GOP bastion of Carroll County, the Republicans seized the lone remaining Democratic delegate seat.

Variety of theories

Republicans offered a variety of theories for the statewide battering, some of which were out of the party's control.

Party officials and others pointed to a strong state economy that JTC did not bring contented voters to the polls, and a backlash from the GOP-led Congress' impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

Some, such as Terhes, said another factor was what they called the Democrats' "negative campaigning" and "attack ads."

Igoe said the Republicans' legislative losses were partly the result of a national trend and partly the result of Republican incumbents with a shaky hold on their districts.

"Some seats we won in 1994, we won only because of the phenomenal Republican year and the anger at Clinton," he said.

GOP headway

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