Absentee votes to decide state's attorney winner Incumbent McLendon trails McCrone by 166 before today's count

November 05, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Gady A. Epstein contributed to this article.

About 3,100 absentee votes will be counted today to determine the winner of the Howard County state's attorney race, in which Democrat Timothy J. McCrone held a slight lead over Republican incumbent Marna L. McLendon after Tuesday's voting.

In a race few political analysts expected to be neck-and-neck, McCrone was on top with 37,445 votes, compared with McLendon's 37,279, a difference of 166. Officials at the county's Board of Election Supervisors will count the absentee ballots in front of anxious McLendon and McCrone supporters.

The Democratic tide that swept the country seems to have trickled down to McCrone's benefit, he and McLendon say. McLendon dominated in the mostly Republican western end of the county, while McCrone did well in mostly liberal Columbia and Ellicott City, where he and County Executive-elect James N. Robey, another Democrat, live.

"It's a credit to Marna that after this strong, strong, strong Democratic showing that she's been able to be within an eyelash of either way," said Roger Caplan, a local media consultant, who advised some local Republican legislative candidates but was not involved in the state's attorney race.

The outcome, political analysts say, hinges on how much the absent voters focused on the issues raised in the campaigns. McCrone had sharply attacked McLendon's four-year record, which she staunchly defended.

One of McLendon's most publicized actions this year dealt with the alleged wiretapping case of Columbia resident Linda R. Tripp. When McLendon passed the investigation to state prosecutors, asserting that she wanted to stay out of the politics of the case, McCrone criticized her actions as a "national embarrassment."

The Tripp issue, some analysts say, could resonate with absentee voters who may associate McLendon's name with the presidential scandal.

McLendon was considered a strong incumbent after building her campaign on a tough-on-crime strategy.

According to McLendon, Democrats requested 1,317 absentee ballots and Republicans asked for 1,234 from the board of election supervisors.

"The absentee ballots were about 50-50 Democrat vs. Republican," said Brad Coker, a Columbia pollster. The ratio is more favorable to her than the parties' voter registration numbers, he said.

"That could help Marna close it," Coker said. "But will that be enough for the [166 votes] she needs? It's possible, but not probable."

Coker advised some local Republicans, although not McLendon, this year's race.

The last time a race in Howard County ended in such a close election night count was the 1982 Democratic primary for a Maryland Senate seat in District 13. Three days after the election, Tom Yeager, who had trailed, defeated Kay G. Bienen by 23 votes after absentee ballots were counted.

McCrone, who said he spent almost all of the $25,000 he raised for his campaign, was cautious yesterday about declaring victory. "I'm anxiously awaiting the results," said the former prosecutor and private attorney. "I'm upbeat. We're in a state of limbo."

As a political newcomer, he said the race has been a "fantastic experience."

"It was a neat thing yesterday when I got all my kids there at the house and their friends and they're all riveted to the TV watching the numbers," McCrone said. "Every time we went up a few votes, we all cheered."

'Lack of solidarity'

McLendon is leaving today for a scheduled vacation. Yesterday, she said she was "cautiously optimistic" about the results. But she said "a lack of solidarity among the county's Republican Party after the September primary hurt."

"I think Robey had tails that helped McCrone," said McLendon, who spent about $45,000 -- much of it her own -- on her campaign. "It was a backlash against Republicans that played into every race. That hurt all local Republicans."

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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